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Attorney General Holder Launches Task Force to Improve Responses to Violence Against Children in Tribal Communities
April 17th, 2013 Posted by

On Friday, Attorney General Holder outlined the initial steps to implement the recommendations of the department’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, part of the Defending Childhood Initiative. Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, Attorney General Eric Holder, OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee Jr., and Senior Juvenile Justice Policy and Legal Advisor Kathi Grasso

The Attorney General announced that Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West will oversee the creation of an American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The announcement was made at the new tribal task force during a quarterly meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is administered by the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Office on Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention.

The proposed task force will be a joint effort between the Departments of Justice and Interior and tribal governments. The task force will focus on:

  • Improving the identification and treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children exposed to violence;
  • Supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities and tribes as they define their own responses to this problem; and
  • Involving American Indian and Alaska Native youth in developing solutions.

The creation of the American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence was one of 56 recommendations made by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence presented its final report and recommendations to Attorney General Holder in December 2012. The recommendations called for universal identification, assessment and treatment of children who witness or are victims of violence. They also called for training for professionals who work with children to identify and respond to trauma caused by violence.

The Justice Department will provide additional details on the implementation of the recommendations in the coming months. These efforts will build on the task force’s call to support and train professionals working with children, raise public awareness, build knowledge and increase department and federal coordination and capacity.

OJP provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking.

Follow the Office of Justice Programs on Twitter at http://twitter.com/OJPgov.

A Message from the Attorney General on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16th, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Fifty years ago today, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sat in the Birmingham City Jail, having been arrested four days earlier for participating in a local civil rights march without a permit.  There in his cell, on scraps of newsprint, he began to draft what became one of the most important documents of the Civil Rights era.

In that famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote that, “all communities and states” are interrelated.  He declared that “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  And he implored his fellow citizens to move with “a sense of great urgency” to help build the brighter future that everyone in this country deserves.

Dr. King’s letter was a rebuke to those who cautioned civil rights advocates merely to “wait” for their constitutional rights to be protected, rather than standing up and speaking out to help secure those rights.  It served as a resounding call for Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life to continue the march towards equality and opportunity for all.  And it reaffirmed the values that were at the root of Dr. King’s actions and at the core of his life: tolerance, compassion, non-violence – and, above all, justice.

Despite the adversity that surrounded him – and the darkness of his narrow jail cell – Dr. King was confident in our nation’s greatness.  He was proud of what this country had always stood for – and optimistic about what he knew it could become.  That’s why his vision – and his inspiring words – continue to guide our steps forward even today.

For me, and for my colleagues at every level of the U.S. Department of Justice, the fundamental ideal that energized Dr. King – that justice is the right of all – lies at the center of our daily efforts to protect the American people from terrorism and other national security threats – including cowardly acts like the one we witnessed in Boston yesterday afternoon; to combat violent crime; to eradicate financial fraud; to safeguard the most vulnerable members of society; and to uphold the sacred civil rights to which everyone in this country is entitled.  This ideal also shapes our work to reform America’s criminal justice systems – and to ensure that the mechanisms of these systems promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and fairness.  And it drives our efforts to close the so-called “justice gap” – by working with organizations like the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to expand access to civil legal aid for those who need it.

This afternoon, I was proud to join Vice President Biden, Valerie Jarrett, LSC leaders, jurists, educators and members of the private bar at the White House in order to discuss the challenges we face in expanding legal assistance.  The unfortunate reality is that – even today – tens of millions of Americans cannot afford the assistance they need to avail themselves of their rights before our court system.  Studies have shown that, for every eligible person seeking help from a legal aid program, another eligible person is turned away.  And, for all the remarkable, once-unimaginable progress we’ve witnessed since Dr. King’s time – more than 80 percent of civil legal needs faced by low-income individuals continue to go unmet.

As Attorney General, I’ve made expanding access to legal services a major focus for the Department of Justice.  Three years ago, I established a new office known as the Access to Justice Initiative to help spearhead national efforts to ensure that basic legal services are available, affordable and accessible for everyone in this country – regardless of status or income.  Last year, in cooperation with the White House Domestic Policy Council – the Justice Department helped launch an interagency roundtable, bringing together 17 agencies to raise awareness about the impact that civil legal aid can have in promoting access to health and housing, education and employment, family stability and community well-being.  The Department’s Office of Justice Programs is providing support for partnerships that educate, train, and equip lawyers to provide civil legal assistance.  Through events like today’s White House forum, and initiatives like the federal government’s Pro Bono Program, we’re encouraging professionals throughout our nation’s legal community to use their skills and training not simply to make a living, but to make a difference.

As we continue these and other efforts, I believe there’s good reason for confidence in our ability to overcome the obstacles before us – and to help realize Dr. King’s vision for a more just society.  I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish – so long as we remain committed to working together.  And I look forward to all that we must, and will, achieve together in the months and years to come.

In Gideon’s Footsteps: The Ongoing Pursuit of Equal Justice for All
March 21st, 2013 Posted by

 

Attorney General Eric Holder, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and Former Vice President Walter Mondale discuss the legacy of the Gideon v. Wainright case during a panel discussion at The Department of Justice.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and Former Vice President Walter Mondale discuss the legacy of the Gideon v. Wainright case during a panel discussion at The Department of Justice.

Fifty years ago, this week, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright - a decisioin that would forever change the criminal justice system of the United States.

In June of 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon  was charged with breaking and entering with the intention of petty theft at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City, Florida.  Unable to afford representation, Gideon petitioned the State of Florida for appointed counsel, but his request was denied.  He was forced to provide his own defense and Gideon was found guilty. He appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.  Denied, but undeterred, he wrote – in pencil and on prison stationary – another petition, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June of 1962, the Supreme Court granted Gideon’s petition.  The following year on March, 18 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Gideon’s favor. The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed that every  defendant charged with a serious crime has the constitutional right to counsel, re gardless of his or her financial resources. The case marked a momentous step in the United States’ pursuit of equality in the justice system. 

The Department of Justice was pleased to host a commemorative event for the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke passionately about the legacy of Gideon. He was then joined by former Vice President Walter Mondale and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan for a panel discussion on the topic.

Attorney General Eric Holder paid homage to the landmark decision and recogned its continued impact, as he noted the event served as a reminder of the work that remains unfinished:

“…Despite half a century of progress – even today, in 2013, far too many Americans struggle to gain access to the legal assistance they need.  And far too many children and adults routinely enter our juvenile and criminal justice systems with little understanding of the rights to which they’re entitled, the charges against them, or the potential sentences they may face.”

The Justice Department is taking action to reduce these instances of inaccessible—or inadequate—legal representation for the citizens most in need.  In fact, Attorney General Holder announced on at the event that the department will offer $1.8 million to the cause of strengthening America’s public defense system.  This comes in addition to the ongoing efforts of the Access to Justice Initiative, established by Attorney General Holder in 2010 to assure that quality legal representation is accessible to even the most vulnerable citizens, and other government and independent organizations with which the Justice Department is coordinating.

Both Attorney General Holder and Acting Senior Counselor for the Access to Justice Initiative Deborah Leff have cautioned on the unfortunate consequences that sequestration, which cut more than $1.6 billion from the Justice Department’s budget, will have on the work to advance Gideon’s cause. Nevertheless, in her speech to the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Convening, Acting Senior Counselor Leff said:

“…Despite the strains that we are going through and the cutbacks we are making, the Department of Justice is continuing its support for indigent-defense projects, because fulfilling Gideon’s legacy and ensuring the constitutional right to counsel are central to our mission.”

The anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright should inspire all American citizens to reflect upon the significance of a justice system that grants each defendant the right to quality counsel, regardless of their financial circumstances. 

In closing remarks, Attorney General Holder said:

 “In the end, this may be the single most important legacy of Gideon:  that it serves as a reminder of the obligation entrusted to every legal professional – not merely to serve clients or win cases, but to do justice.  It stands as a testament to the fact that the structures and mechanisms of our legal system, far from being etched in stone, remain works in progress.  And it’s a powerful example of how – in this great country – even the humblest hands can help to bend the arc of history just a little further toward justice.”

For more information about the department’s efforts to ensure effective legal assistance for all persons charged with crimes visit justice.gov/atj/gideon.

 

Sunshine Week: In Celebration of Open Government
March 12th, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Melanie Ann Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice and Lisa Ellman, Chief Counselor for the Open Government Partnership and Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House. It originally appeared on The White House blog.

As President Barack Obama has stated, “Openness will strengthen our democracy, and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” This week, we celebrate Sunshine Week — an appropriate time to discuss the importance of open government and freedom of information, and to take stock of how far we have come, and think about what more can be done.   

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, the White House will highlight one initiative a day which demonstrates the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to open and accessible government. Today, we will focus on progress made improving the administration of the FOIA. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, FOIA, which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government. 

As President Obama declared in his landmark Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) issued on his first full day in Office:  “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.”  The FOIA – which provides the public with a statutory right to request and receive information from their government – is a key way in which government transparency is realized. 

Over the past four years agencies have been working hard to improve their administration of the FOIA under guidance issued by Attorney General Holder. That guidance directed agencies to apply a presumption of openness in responding to requests and to make it a priority to respond promptly. Both the President and Attorney General stressed that it is also vital for agencies to make information available proactively, without the need to make a request, so that what is “known and done by their Government” is readily available to all. These directives are taking hold across the agencies and real improvements are being made. 

In Fiscal Year 2012, the government as a whole:

  • Processed more FOIA requests:  Agencies processed 665,924 total requests. This is a 5.5 percent increase over the total number of requests processed last fiscal year. 
  • Decreased the FOIA request backlog: The efforts of agencies to increase the numbers of requests processed has paid off as the government was able to reduce its backlog of pending requests by 14 percent from last year.  The current backlog marks a 45 percent reduction from the backlog that existed four years ago in 2008. 
  • Maintained a release rate above 92 percent for the fourth straight year: Of the 464,985 requests processed by agencies for disclosure, the government released records either in full or in part in response to 93.4 percent of these requests.  For half of those requests all the information was released, with nothing withheld.  This marks the fourth year in a row where the number of responses to FOIA requests providing a release of information either in full or in part exceeded 92 percent of the requests processed for disclosure. 
  • Improved average processing times:  Agencies improved the average processing times for all categories of requests. 
  • Disclosed more information proactively:  Agencies met public demand for information by posting a wide range of material on their websites, allowing the public to easily find information of interest without the need to make a FOIA request. 

All of the detailed data on agency FOIA compliance from Fiscal Year 2012 is compiled and displayed graphically on the Department of Justice’s government FOIA website FOIA.gov, providing a clear picture of government FOIA administration and progress during the last fiscal year.

These are more than just statistics. They represent the efforts of agencies across the government to answer the call to improve transparency. They demonstrate that agencies are responding to requests more quickly and releasing more information when they do. Agencies are reducing backlogs of pending requests and helping eliminate the need to even make requests by proactively providing information online.  The public is the beneficiary of this progress. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are answering the President’s and Attorney General’s call for greater transparency.

To learn more about the Office of Information Policy visit The FOIA Post - the blog of OIP. For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, visit FOIA.gov.

Recognizing World AIDS Day
November 30th, 2012 Posted by

On World AIDS Day 2012, the Department of Justice is proud to reaffirm its ongoing commitment to protect – and advance – the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.  And – in accordance with the objectives outlined by President Obama in the landmark National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we are working harder than ever to end discrimination that is still routinely – and tragically – experienced by those with HIV/AIDS. 

In recognizing World AIDS Day 2012, Attorney General Holder stated:

“The Department of Justice is determined to combat stigma and stereotypes by improving awareness and educating more people about their rights and responsibilities under federal law.  Together with our partners under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we are committed to using every legal authority to ensure critical protections for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.”  

In pursuit of this goal, the department is taking critical steps to boost technical assistance, improve training, and expand outreach.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we’re making historic strides to educate everyone on federal protections for people with disabilities, including those living with HIV/AIDS.  To that end, the department has published “Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS,” – not only to make sure that people with HIV/AIDS understand their rights – but also to inform employers, businesses, and state and local governments of their responsibilities and legal obligations under the ADA. 

Beyond that, the department is pledging its best efforts – through its rigorous and ever-expanding enforcement work – to promote opportunity and access for persons with HIV/AIDS.  In May, the Justice Department announced two settlements resolving claims that health care providers refused to serve people with HIV in violation of the ADA.  Both settlement agreements mandated that the entities develop and implement a non-discrimination policy, train staff on the requirements of the ADA, and to pay a combined total of $60,000 to the complainants and $35,000 as a civil penalty.

And this past September, the Justice Department – together with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania – reached a settlement with the Milton Hershey School of Hershey, Pennsylvania to resolve allegations that the school violated the ADA by rejecting an HIV-positive student.  In addition to a $15,000 civil penalty, the school was also required – under the terms of the settlement – to pay $700,000 to the child and his mother, adopt and enforce a policy prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal opportunity for students with disabilities (including those with HIV), and provide training to staff on the requirements established by the ADA. 

On World AIDS Day 2012, the Justice Department will continue to engage a growing circle of allies and use every available resource to develop long-term strategies for success.  To learn more about our work, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
September 28th, 2012 Posted by

This post appears couresty of Attorney General  Eric Holder.

Got Drugs?

Tomorrow marks the DEA’s fifth Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.   In conjunction with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country, DEA personnel have set up hundreds of collection sites where citizens can turn in their unneeded prescription medications – at no cost, and with no questions asked.

Already, this program has allowed us to collect over 1.5 million pounds of prescription drugs.

Find a Take-Back site near you. 

In recent years, we’ve seen that prescription drug abuse constitutes one of the greatest public safety and public health epidemics of our time, inflicting devastating, long-term, effects on individuals – and destroying families, neighborhoods, and entire communities – all across the country.  Studies have shown that more than 52 million Americans have abused prescription drugs at least once during their lifetimes; that every day 7,000 people begin misusing prescription drugs for the first time; and that, in 2008 alone, prescription drug abuse claimed over 20,000 lives nationwide. 

As a former judge, United States Attorney, and Deputy Attorney General, I’ve seen the terrible cost of prescription drug abuse.  Today, as Attorney General, I’m committed to ensuring that addressing its causes and consequences is – and will remain – among the Justice Department’s top priorities.  And I’m proud to report that – over the last three and a half years – this commitment had led us to take bold, coordinated action to protect the American people.

In concert with a range of key federal, state, local, and tribal authorities and partner organizations, the department has begun working to implement effective education, treatment, enforcement, and policy solutions.  Through initiatives like our Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs – and thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squads – we’re gaining a better understanding of this problem and we’re moving more swiftly – and more efficiently – than ever before to intervene in the lives of those who are at risk.  

Our efforts have been informed, augmented, and strengthened by the work of leading researchers and law enforcement officials who serve on the front lines of this fight – and who have repeatedly shown that, when it comes to preventing, reducing, and combating prescription drug abuse, we stand to benefit from a variety of perspectives and approaches.

Even more importantly, they’ve demonstrated that every individual has an essential role to play in this work.  Recent surveys indicate that more than half of those who admit to abusing prescription painkillers said that they got drugs “from a friend or relative for free”– not from their own doctor.   This illustrates the critical importance of getting old, unused, or expired drugs out of household medicine cabinets.  And it’s why the DEA has begun the Take-Back campaign.   

During the DEA’s last take-back day in April, more than 4,200 state and local law enforcement partners collected a record-breaking 552,161 pounds of prescription drugs at over 5,600 sites operated in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

With the help of citizens across the country, we are poised to build on these extraordinary results.  By cleaning out their medicine cabinets, the American people can help to clean up their communities.  We can stand together against crime.  And we can ensure that all of our neighbors – especially our young people – have the opportunity to live in drug-free communities and to lead safe, healthy lives.

 Find a Take-Back site near you. 

 
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