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Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit Launches at White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice
April 22, 2014 Posted by

What does civil legal aid have to do with preventing homelessness among veterans and securing a job?  And what does the Federal Government have to do with civil legal aid?  Often times, a lot.  

Andy’s” 10-year-old felony conviction prevented him from pursuing his hopes of securing a state license to become a New York Licensed Practical Nurse.  The Fortune Society, a grantee of U.S. Department of Labor’s Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program, referred Andy to MFY Legal Services in New York.  His legal aid lawyer helped Andy obtain out-of state criminal court records, gather proof of rehabilitation and represented him at the initial investigative interview.  The result was a successful license application and a job. 

Thanks to Supportive Services for Veterans Families program funding, the LSC-supported Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles helped “Jake,” a veteran experiencing homelessness who had spent many months moving from shelter to shelter, apply for VA benefits.  The VA granted his request for a pension and provided him with medical care and a housing subsidy.  Now Jake lives in a duplex and has reunited with his son. 

These are just two case studies showing why, in July 2012, the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and the U.S. Department of Justice launched the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR or Roundtable) to raise awareness about how civil legal aid helps advance a wide range of federal objectives by promoting access to health and housing, education and employment, family stability and community well-being.  Associate Attorney General Tony West and Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy at the White House Domestic Policy Council Tonya Robinson are co-chairs for LAIR, which is made up of 17 collaborating federal partners.  

Staffed by the Justice Department’s Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), an office Attorney General Eric Holder launched four years ago to help spearhead national efforts to expand access to civil legal aid and criminal indigent defense, ATJ launched a new LAIR Toolkit at the April 8, 2014, White House and Legal Services Corporation Forum on Increasing Access to Justice. 

As explained in the Welcome Message from Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz, “[t]he Roundtable’s work is premised on the recognition that applying the power of legal services to meet federal objectives creates more opportunities for Americans to grab the next rung on the ladder out of poverty… In short, legal services can transform lives for the better, and there is a role for the Federal Government to play in helping to ensure access to these critical services.”  

The online resource guide contains useful information about civil legal aid and the intersection with many federal objectives.  Associate Attorney General West told the White House event attendees, “You’ll see a series of what we call ‘case studies’ on how civil legal aid supports federal efforts—for example, to help people stay housed, prevent domestic violence, and keep kids in school.  The wealth of information you’ll find at the Federal Agency Resources tab includes a listing by agency of selected grants and program activities for which civil legal aid providers are an eligible grantee, sub-grantee or partner, along with other examples of federal government activities that engage civil legal aid.” 

ATJ will continue to post case studies on new topics throughout the year, along with updates to the Federal Agency Resources page.  Some of the case studies already in queue include how Civil Legal Aid Supports Federal Efforts to help prevent elder abuse and consumer fraud, and how it helps people with disabilities, children and families, immigrants, Native Americans, and victims of disaster.  Ideas about the new LAIR Toolkit content can be shared with the Access to Justice Initiative staff by writing to LAIR@usdoj.gov.

Reentry and the Affordable Care Act
April 17, 2014 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Associate Attorney General Tony West

Earlier this month, at a conference hosted by the Community Oriented Correctional Health Services and the journal Health Affairs, I had the opportunity to speak with a distinguished group of policymakers, researchers and health care and criminal justice professionals about the implications of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those under correctional supervision.

The fact is that the Affordable Care Act holds the promise of expanding health care coverage to uninsured Americans, and potentially opens Medicaid enrollment to some 15 million low-income adults, including the millions of individuals who come into contact with our criminal justice system, of whom upwards of 90 percent are uninsured.

This moment is an opportunity, uniquely positioned at the intersection of public health and public safety, to reform correctional health care, to improve the health of our communities and to enhance public safety.  It is an opportunity born of necessity, as leaders across the political spectrum seek ways to better align our criminal justice investments with outcomes that actually make us safer.

At the Department of Justice, we understand that public health and public safety often walk hand-in-hand; that the public policy investments we make yield the greatest returns when they reflect the importance of that connection; and that key to making our communities safer is reducing recidivism by improving reentry, which in turn means focusing on the physical and mental health of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.

We know that the incarcerated population carries substantially higher rates of medical, psychiatric and substance abuse problems than the general population.  Rates of communicable diseases are higher among inmates; an estimated 39 to 43 percent suffer from one or more chronic health conditions; and men and women in this population suffer three times the rate of mental illness and four times the rate of substance abuse problems as compared to the general public.

Fortunately, we have a path forward.

We know that health care coverage and access to adequate health services can decrease the risk of individuals becoming involved with the criminal justice system in the first place.  Moreover, when individuals do come into contact with the justice system, we can dramatically improve the odds for successful reentry if we address their health and mental health needs once they enter correctional facilities and ensure continuity of care once they leave.  The Affordable Care Act, primarily through its Medicaid expansion provisions and parity for mental health and substance abuse treatment, provides us with this unique opportunity to reduce recidivism while improving public health.  Access to these benefits can be a critical factor in the success or failure of incarcerated persons upon their release.

Much of the work being done by the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which is chaired by the Attorney General, focuses on reducing the collateral consequences of incarceration and increasing access to employment, treatment and civic participation.  With our Reentry Council partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, we are jointly supporting a three-year pilot project to test the efficacy of enrolling prison and jail inmates in Medicaid prior to release, and we’re tracking usage, employment and recidivism outcomes along the way.

At the Department of Justice, we will require halfway houses in the federal system—known as residential reentry centers (RRCs)—to offer standardized treatment to prisoners with mental health and substance abuse issues.  Once fully-implemented, these services will be available to the approximately 30,000 inmates who are released through halfway houses each year, helping to promote consistency and continuity of care between federal prisons and community-based facilities.

This month, our Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance released a new solicitation requesting proposals to help states and local jurisdictions maximize Medicaid and marketplace resources on behalf of justice-involved individuals.  We are looking for innovative ideas to aid in all aspects of health care planning, from diversion alternatives and intake screening at the front-end, to reentry programs at the back end.  We want to be able to provide in-depth assistance to select jurisdictions on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as well as policy guidance for all states and localities.

Of course, we must do more.

We must make it standard practice to assess the health care needs of individuals as soon as they come into the criminal justice system, being thoughtful about our options and basing decisions on individual needs.

We should be willing to consider detention alternatives such as drug and mental health courts, and we should make health care enrollment part of the intake and discharge processes for all inmates.

We must develop partnerships between correctional facilities and community health programs to promote information exchange and ensure continuity of care.

And we must target our actions to those who need services the most.  The Affordable Care Act gives us the chance to provide those with the highest risks and the greatest needs access to quality health care in a way that promotes public health and safety while strengthening community and respecting individual dignity.

Naturalization Ceremony Blog Post – “Welcoming New Partners to our Bold Experiment”
April 16, 2014 Posted by

 

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This post is courtesy of Associate Attorney General Tony West.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of new citizens at a naturalization ceremony held at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Va.  It was an incredible experience — one that made me proud of our country’s well-earned reputation as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.  Gathered in one place were 700 individuals from over 100 different countries, represented by different flags, different cultures and different systems of government.  These 700 took an oath in unison and in one single moment they all became Americans. 

Of course, their individual journeys to this day were much more unique, complicated and hard fought than could ever be captured in a moment.  Some came from across the globe — from nations like Brazil, Russia, India, China, Ireland, Ghana and Afghanistan.  Others came from our neighbors – Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Some of them are business owners, doctors, teachers, artists and engineers.  And some are parents caring for America’s next generation.  

Some are new citizens like Corporal Jorge Luis Cuji Villacis, who came here from Ecuador when he was 11 years old, went to school and then joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he wanted to make his family proud, serve this country and become a better person. 

And what I found so inspiring about this ceremony is what it reaffirmed about this country.  We are a nation bound together not by a shared race, a single ethnicity or a state-sanctioned religious faith.  We ask neither that such traits be inherited nor left behind.  Instead, our country is defined by our founding principles: freedom, equality and democracy.  The idea that you are free to control your destiny and help shape the future of this nation, no matter where you came from, no matter who your ancestors are and no matter what you look like.  More than a place on the map, that spirit is what the United States of America represents and it’s what these new citizens embody. 

Becoming an American citizen and taking part in our shared story is a precious privilege that no one in that auditorium took for granted.  So as we welcome these new partners to our bold experiment in self-government, we must work to improve the inefficient immigration system that hampered them, and so many other talented immigrants, from starting their lives here.

We know that we can improve that system by strengthening our borders, streamlining legal immigration, holding employers accountable and creating a firm but fair path to earned citizenship for those immigrants who are already contributing to our economy and society in so many ways.  

That’s why we remain committed to working with Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reforms that will do justice to our immigration system and the hard working, talented individuals who come through that system seeking the privilege of becoming an American.

Health, Innovation and the Promise of VAWA 2013 in Indian Country
September 6, 2013 Posted by

By Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President
and Tony West, U.S. Associate Attorney General

Yesterday morning, we made our way north from Seattle, past gorgeous waterways, and lush greenery to visit with the Tulalip tribes of western Washington. We saw first-hand, a tribal court system which serves to both honor the traditions of its people and to foster a renewed era of tribal self-determination.

The Tulalip Tribes of Washington, like many American Indian tribes, have built a tribal court system that serves the civil needs of their community, holds criminals accountable, and protects the rights of victims and the accused in criminal cases. By engaging the entire spectrum of stakeholders, including judges, the police, public defenders, tribal attorneys, as well as tribal elders, and even offenders in many cases– the system they have put in place is producing impressive results with a unique focus on innovative, restorative, and communal solutions.

Because of the successful 2013 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which President Obama signed into law on March 7, 2013, tribal courts and law enforcement will soon be able to exercise the sovereign power to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence those who commit acts of domestic violence or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country, regardless of the defendant’s Indian or non-Indian status. The tribal provisions of this landmark legislation were originally proposed by the Department of Justice in 2011 to address alarming rates of violence against native women. We believe today, as we did then, that this is not only constitutionally sound law, but it is also a moral prerogative and an essential tool to ensure that non-Indian men who assault Indian women are held accountable for their crimes.

The 2013 VAWA reauthorization might never have happened without the relentless efforts of native women advocates like Tulalip Tribal Vice Chairwoman Deborah Parker, whose personal courage and dedication to this cause helped carry the day. The Tulalip Tribe was but one example that helped demonstrate to Congress and many others that there are tribal courts prepared to exercise this important authority that was swept away by the Supreme Court’s 1978 Oliphant ruling.

This new law generally takes effect on March 7, 2015, but also authorizes a voluntary pilot project to allow certain tribes to begin exercising this authority sooner.

After a visit to the Tribal Courthouse, we then visited the Tulalip Legacy of Healing Safe House, a domestic violence shelter housed in facilities renovated with federal Recovery Act funds, to provide victims a safe place, and the chance they need to start fresh and rebuild.

And finally, it wouldn’t have been an authentic trip to Tulalip lands and the Pacific Northwest without a traditional salmon luncheon. We joined around 50 tribal members at the Hibulb Cultural Center to learn more about the ancient tribal traditions of the Tulalip people, and of course, to enjoy the region’s most time-honored and delicious delicacy.

We were reminded this week of how much progress is being made by tribal justice systems across the country. These efforts are being led by courageous native people like the Tulalip who are dedicated to making the promise of the VAWA 2013 Reauthorization into a reality for generations of Native American women.

Also posted at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/09/06/health-innovation-and-promise-vawa-2013-indian-country

A Week to Honor Our Public Safety Heroes
May 17, 2013 Posted by

During National Police Week, the Justice Department participated in events across the country to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect and serve.

On Monday evening, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the 25th Annual National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Candlelight Vigil in Washington, D.C.  He said that last year witnessed the fewest line-of-duty deaths since the 1950s, but that a single act of violence against a law enforcement officer is one too many.  Attorney General Holder further noted:

“Especially this evening – as we gather in this place of honor, on this hallowed ground, to mark the 25th Annual Candlelight Vigil – I want to assure you that the courage, the fidelity and the heroic final actions of our fallen officers will never be forgotten.  Every day – in cities, rural areas and tribal communities across the country – these individuals stood on the front lines of our nation’s fight against crime and violence.  Each faced uncertain dangers, and a diverse array of threats, every time they put on their badge and uniform.”

On Wednesday, Attorney General Holder and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary announced several improvements to modernize and streamline the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program.  Attorney General Holder stated:

“These fundamental improvements to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program will help us cut through red tape – and ensure that fallen or injured officers and their families can get the benefits they need in a timely manner.  These improvements are representative of the value that I, the women and men of the Justice Department, and our entire country, must always place on the work of our law enforcement officers. And, it’s emblematic of our commitment to standing with all who bravely serve our nation, especially in the toughest of times.”

U.S. Attorneys across the country also commemorated Police Week in their districts.  U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz recently recognized 152 officials from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for exceptional service at the U.S. Attorney’s annual Law Enforcement Public Service Awards Ceremony.  The event followed just weeks after the death of MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed on April 18th just days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

During the event, U.S. Attorney Ortiz praised law enforcement personnel and their accomplishments and recognized the demands placed upon them, saying:

“This work can be difficult, and at times, it may seem thankless.  Please know that your efforts do not go unnoticed. What you have sacrificed – your personal safety, your precious time with your families – it is truly appreciated by our office, your agencies and the communities for which you have dedicated your esteemed service.”

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York William J. Hochul Jr. spoke at the Police Memorial Service at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo honoring 94 federal, state and local officers killed in the line of duty and at a monument dedication ceremony in Clarence, N.Y. in memory of New York State Trooper Kevin Dobson who was killed in the line of duty in 2011.   

Other U.S. Attorneys and their staff attended memorial services, parades, wreath laying and other special events commemorating Police Week in Los Angeles, Jackson, Miss., Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio, Providence, R.I., Knoxville, Tenn., Dallas, Charleston, W.V., among others across the country.

Also during Police Week, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office held an open house in the Capitol Visitors Center for visiting law enforcement officers who wanted to learn more about the agency’s 2013 programs and resources.  COPS staff was on hand to discuss federal funding opportunities, including the COPS Hiring Program, a competitive grant program focused on school safety, veteran hiring and homicide and gun violence reduction.  Grant opportunities for the development of community policing strategies and funding for public safety enhancements in tribal jurisdictions were also highlighted.  

Events continue this weekend and throughout the month, to honor those who serve and protect every community across the country. For more information, including a detailed schedule of events for National Police Week 2013, visit www.policeweek.org.

Attorney General Holder Launches Task Force to Improve Responses to Violence Against Children in Tribal Communities
April 17, 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.

 
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