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Giving a Boost to Kids of Incarcerated Parents
June 12, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Karol Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.

This week, the beloved children’s television show “Sesame Street” introduced a character named Alex.  Like hundreds of thousands of American children, Alex has a parent behind bars, and like them, he faces considerable challenges to his happiness, welfare, and chances of future success.  Kids in Alex’s situation – and there are 1.7 million of them in the United States – are unfairly burdened with a social stigma that identifies them by a family member’s crime.  Although they have done nothing wrong themselves and may not even understand what has happened, they feel responsible.  They are at times anxious or depressed, and the stress of coping with this major disruption in their lives may affect their performance in school or cause them to act out in ways they know they shouldn’t.

Dealing with an absent parent is never easy for a child, much less when that parent has been incarcerated for a criminal offense.  An innocent young person should not be left to suffer the consequences.  Research shows that maintaining contact and healthy relationships in spite of the barriers represented by prison walls is not only possible but beneficial, for both the children and their parents.  We owe these children the opportunity to remain connected to their mothers and fathers.

Under White House leadership, the Department of Justice is part of an aggressive campaign to provide children of incarcerated parents the support they need.  The Office of Justice ProgramsOffice of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, along with DOJ’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is hosting a webinar on July 9 for faith-based and community leaders on improving our response to children of inmates.  Our National Institute of Justice is studying the adoption of video visitation technology to give state and local governments an idea of its cost and potential impact.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics will use its Survey of Prison Inmates to measure the number of minor children with an incarcerated parent and the extent their parents are involved in their lives.  And our Bureau of Justice Assistance is funding the International Association of Chiefs of Police to bring together federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and child protective services experts to create a model protocol for handling arrests made in the presence of children.

The Bureau of Prisons plays a pivotal role, as well, supporting programs to enhance family relationships, improve inmate parenting skills, and redesign visitation policies in its system, while the National Institute of Corrections is developing guidance to help state and local governments enact policy changes aimed at mitigating the impact of a parent’s incarceration.  This work complements initiatives undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reach kids in foster care and public housing.  The Federal Interagency Reentry Council, chaired by the Attorney General, has developed a series of Myth Busters to correct misperceptions about parental rights, children’s eligibility for federal benefits, and other issues affecting the children of inmates.  The White House is also launching a Children of Incarcerated Parents Web Portal, with information about federal resources, grant opportunities, best practices, and government activities designed to support children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers.

Alex may be a fictional character, but the problems he faces are very real.  The Department of Justice and its partners in the federal government are committed to helping children of incarcerated parents live happy, productive lives.

Celebrating Women’s History Month
March 27, 2013 Posted by

In commemoration of Women’s History Month, the Justice Department held a Women’s History Month Observance Program to recognize the many achievements that women have made to advance the Justice Department’s mission and to improve our of nation’s cultural, economic, academic, and military institutions.

As Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said during the program:

“At the Justice Department, the contributions of women are felt on all levels, and across each component …[and they are]providing essential leadership and vision at every level and in every corner of the world where we carry out our most critical responsibilities.”

This year’s national theme for the month is “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination,” which specifically addresses the role women play in advancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The Department of Justice has nearly 3,000 talented women who hold positions as economists, Information Technology Specialists, Engineers, Forensic Scientists and Mathematicians.

Despite the strides women have made at the department – where they make up 41 percent of the department’s workforce, a vast gender disparity in the national workforce remains all too real. Today more women attend college than ever before. More women graduate from college with advance degrees, as compared to their male counterparts. And yet, women in America continue to earn less than their male counterparts and hold significantly fewer leadership positions in the workplace.

Deputy Attorney General Cole said:

“Inside our walls, in addition to making sure women have a seat at the table here at DOJ, we have welcomed speakers from both inside and outside the department to continue to discuss the importance of women in leadership and across the ranks of all of our occupations. Whether women are overseeing a Fortune 500 company, a federal agency, or the factory floor, the perspectives women bring to all the important work we do in this country only serves to make the ultimate product better and, as a result, make us all better off.”

In addition to ensuring that all women have equal opportunity to excel, lead, and thrive, promoting women’s safety remains one of the Justice Department’s top priorities.

Through the Office of Violence Against Women–which provides financial and technical aid to help communities develop programs, policies and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking–and thanks to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the department stands more poised than ever before to protect women and girls from violence, abuse and exploitation.

Deputy Attorney General Cole noted:

“We are particularly pleased that the recent reauthorization of VAWA includes new provisions to address violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals; immigrants and Native Americans. The department worked hard to ensure that this landmark legislation would protect all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

In addition to protecting women in their communities, the department works to protect women in the workplace. Alongside the Equal Opportunity Commission at the Department of Labor which has oversight of private employers, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation section ensures that women in the federal workforce are protected from discrimination on the basis of their gender. Discrimination on the basis of gender includes denying equal employment opportunity to any person because of gender, treating a woman unfavorably because she is pregnant, or treating a person unfavorably because he or she does not conform with gender-based stereotypes.

Women’s History Month is a time for us to reflect, not just on the many amazing contributions women have made here at the department and throughout the nation, but on the many challenges women still face. It is a time for us to recommit to equality and to justice for women.

For more information about the Office of Violence Against Women, visit ovw.justice.gov. To learn more about the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section, visit http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/emp/

 

Reducing Gun Violence and Preventing Future Tragedies
February 13, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. It was adapted from recent remarks made to the National District Attorneys Association Winter Conference.

Gun violence has touched every state, county, city and town in America.  While we have seen the devastating examples of it over the years, since December’s horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, the need to address this problem has been center stage.  And we at the department — led by the Attorney General – have been working with Vice President Biden and agencies and departments across the Obama Administration to formulate concrete, common-sense recommendations for reducing gun violence and preventing future tragedies.

The Administration has proposed a range of legislative remedies – along with 23 executive actions – to address mass shootings and reduce gun violence. The Department of Justice is working to implement a number of those executive actions. 

For example, we are working to strengthen the national background check system by addressing gaps in the federal and state records currently available in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  Those gaps significantly hinder the ability of NICS to quickly confirm whether a prospective purchaser is prohibited from acquiring a firearm as a felon. 

There are also still 12 states with fewer than 10 mental health records in the system.  To help fix this problem, we are providing $25 million in grants to states to assist them in finding ways to make more records available, especially mental health records.

We are also making it possible for local law enforcement officers to run a full NICS background check before returning a firearm to someone after the criminal investigation is finished.  For example, when a stolen firearm recovered by police is returned to its original owner, the police need to be sure they are not returning that weapon to a prohibited person.

In addition, the ATF will soon be publishing instructions on how to trace recovered firearms.  All it takes is a computer and an internet connection.  We encourage local law enforcement officers to do this every time they recover a firearm.  ATF will also be publishing an annual report on nationwide lost and stolen gun data.   Making this data available gives us a great opportunity for us to work together, at all levels of government to use our limited resources as effectively as possible, to make our communities safer.

We’re also taking a hard look at our federal laws and our enforcement priorities to ensure that we are doing everything possible at the federal level to keep firearms away from traffickers and others who should not have them. 

And while most of our efforts will be focused on keeping guns out of the wrong hands, we also want to help those on the ground prevent and mitigate violent situations when they do occur.  To this end, the FBI will be providing a new specialized training course for active shooter situations for law enforcement officers, first responders, and school officials.

We recognize that it is not just a federal problem and our law enforcement partners at the state, local and tribal levels are doing some of the hardest and most important work to keep our people safe, and our cities, neighborhoods, and schools secure. 

Working together, on these and other efforts, we will help reduce gun violence and prevent future tragedies.

The Fight to End to Human Trafficking Continues
November 21, 2012 Posted by

 

Actress and Advocate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Minh Dang, Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Withelma "T" Ortiz-Macey met to discuss human trafficking.

Actress and Advocate, Jada Pinkett Smith, Minh Dang, Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Withelma "T" Ortiz-Macey met to discuss human trafficking.

 

Deputy Attorney General James Cole met with Jada Pinkett Smith last week to discuss the department’s extensive efforts to end human trafficking.  Ms. Pinkett Smith founded the organization, Don’t Sell Bodies, to raise awareness about this global epidemic and advocate for victims of trafficking. Ms. Pinkett Smith was joined by former trafficking victims who now work to raise awareness and eliminate human trafficking, including Minh Dang and Withelma “T” Ortiz-Macey, Glamour magazine’s 2011 Woman of the Year. 

During the meeting the group discussed remarks made by Deputy Cole before the INTERPOL General Assembly in Italy earlier this month, which largely focused on the department’s myriad of efforts to combat trafficking, including the links between transnational organized crime and human trafficking and the department’s prosecution and training efforts in this area. 

Deputy Attorney General Cole greets Jada Pinkett Smith and her colleagues who are advocating for an end to human trafficking.

Deputy Attorney General Cole greets Jada Pinkett Smith and her colleagues who are advocating for an end to human trafficking.

Human trafficking cases are prosecuted by several Department of Justice components, including the Civil Rights Division and its specialized Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the Criminal Division through the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and individual U.S. Attorney’s Offices. These cases are investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations, and partners at the Departments of Labor and State.

Jada Pinkett Smith meets with Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Jada Pinkett Smith meets with Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

In recent years we have demonstrated unprecedented success in fighting both labor and sex trafficking. We are bringing a record number of federal cases, while at the same time, more states than ever before have passed their own anti-trafficking laws. The department has increased the number of human trafficking prosecutions by more than 30 percent in forced labor and adult sex trafficking cases, while also increasing the number of convictions in Innocence Lost National Initiative cases by 30 percent.

Working with federal, state, local, and international law enforcement agencies, we recently secured the longest sentence ever imposed in a forced labor case. In United States v. Botsvynyuk, the lead defendant was sentenced to life in prison plus twenty years, and his co-conspirator was sentenced to twenty years, for their respective roles in an organized human trafficking scheme that held its victims in forced labor on cleaning crews in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Just over a year ago, we initiated a pilot project of multi-agency Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams (ACTeams) in six judicial districts in the United States. These task forces will prove the value of interagency coordination to address the scourge of human trafficking. In addition to the ACTeams, each U.S. Attorney now participates in some form of anti-trafficking task force.

In addition to our own federal prosecutions, the department’s grant making components are funding state and local law enforcement agencies and victim services organizations to support multidisciplinary, victim-centered task forces dedicated to investigating trafficking crimes and providing culturally-competent assistance to victims.

By taking a multi-disciplinary approach to combating human trafficking and working with our federal, state local and nonprofit partners we can ensure that victims obtain the services that they need and that offenders are prosecuted and sentenced to lengthy jail sentences.

Confronting Transnational Organized Crime and Human Trafficking in a Global Society
November 6, 2012 Posted by

On November 5th, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole addressed the 81st INTERPOL Ministerial and General Assembly meeting in Rome, Italy. This gathering of INTERPOL member countries marked an important opportunity to recognize joint achievements, build relationships, discuss issues critical to our domestic and global security, and develop a path forward on international law enforcement.

Deputy Attorney General Cole noted the unprecedented level of cooperation between INTERPOL member countries which has led to the development of critical law enforcement tools of 24/7 communication, information sharing and coordinated responses.  He also emphasized two important areas that would benefit greatly from INTERPOL’s continued leadership and support and member countries’ investment, vigilance and cooperation: Transnational Organized Crime and Human Trafficking.

 “Transnational organized crime poses a significant and growing threat to the security of each of our nations (and citizens) and the international community as a whole.  Not only are criminal networks expanding, but they are also diversifying their activities – with dire implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions and, in this already tough economic climate, the financial stability of nations across the globe.  The United Nations estimates that, in 2009, transnational organized criminal activities generated $870 billion in illegal proceeds – equivalent to almost 7 percent of world exports.” 

To respond to the threat of transnational organized crime, Deputy Attorney General Cole called for a “whole-of-government approach” focused on coordinating resources and expertise: 

“We realized that law enforcement measures alone would not fully counter the threat of transnational organized crime.  Included in this approach was: the work of our Department of the Treasury to impose financial sanctions on major transnational organized crime groups and individuals; and the work of our Department of State to deny entry to the United States to transnational criminal aliens and others who have been targeted for financial sanctions.  As a direct result of these actions, five transnational organized crime groups that span the globe already have been subjected to these crippling financial sanctions.”

Deputy Attorney General Cole also stressed the need for “enhanced global attention and a unified law enforcement response” to fight against human trafficking:

“One of the greatest horrors of this crime is that traffickers view their victims as nothing more than a commodity, something that can be bought and sold, or simply taken, and eventually discarded… This crime can take many forms. It is the young woman who moves to another country for the promise of a new life – but instead finds herself enslaved and repeatedly sold for sex. Or the child who ran away from home and finds herself in the same situation because, in desperate need, she accepted help from the wrong person.” 

Although the specific details may differ, these heinous crimes often have two common elements.  First, human trafficking  is hidden in plain sight – behind the veil of a prostitution offense, a domestic abuse incident, a physical or sexual assault, a labor dispute, or an immigration crime.  Second, victims are often traumatized, and can be weary of – and reluctant to corporate with – law enforcement officials for fear of repercussions from their captors. This is why educating first responders about the factors that may indicate a potential human trafficking offense is a critical step in improving our ability to identify and help trafficking victims. 

In front of an international audience, Deputy Attorney General Cole reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to preventing and fighting human trafficking in all of its forms. Last year, the department set a new record in the number of defendants charged in human trafficking cases. Additionally, over the last three years, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of forced labor and human trafficking cases charged. 

The United States has also partnered with law enforcement officials from Mexico and Ukraine, to Germany and Canada to dismantle sex traffic networks and successfully bring perpetrators behinds these crimes to justice. This work – which showcases the value of engaging in global partnerships to combat human trafficking –sends an unmistakable message: we will relentlessly pursue those who trade in the misery of other human beings and we will rescue their victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.

However, these efforts are only the beginning. To successfully combat human trafficking, as Deputy Attorney General said, “prosecution alone is not the answer,” which is why we are bringing a renewed focus to preventative measures like:

  • Prevention through prosecution of trafficking rings before they can ensnare other victims;
  • prevention through deterrence so that our prosecutions dissuade others who may consider engaging in this crime;
  • prevention through public awareness; and, lastly,
  • prevention through the education of potential victims who, driven by fear, poverty, or lack of education, often unwittingly place their lives in the hands of exploitative traffickers.

No single country or law enforcement agency has the power, or the means, to tackle the global criminal enterprises we face.  Only by communicating effectively, sharing intelligence and combining resources – within our own governments and with our law enforcement partners around the globe – can we truly understand current and emerging trends and build effective strategies to anticipate, combat and put an end to these crimes. 

 

Working Together to Help Children Exposed to Drugs and Violence
October 24, 2012 Posted by

It is estimated that over 9 million children live in homes where a parent or other adult use illegal drugs. Children growing up in such a challenging environment are 3 times more likely to be verbally, physically, or sexually abused and 4 times more likely to be neglected.

This week, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Community Oriented Policing Services Office Director Bernard Melekian, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Barry Grissom, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Nicholas Klinefeldt, and  interim U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa Sean Berry attended the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children Conference in Des Moines, Iowa to support the efforts to find and help children growing up in dangerous drug environments. 

Deputy Attorney General James Cole spoke with urgency about the importance and responsibility we have to ensure the justice, health and safety of these vulnerable young members of our communities:

This work is difficult and gut-wrenching. We cannot simply arrest and prosecute our way out of the growing epidemic of drug abuse, trafficking, and addiction by parents and childcare providers.   Saving these children requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving coordinated teams comprised of law enforcement, child protective services, healthcare professionals, educators, victim service specialists, child advocates, courts, and the community.   It requires all of us.

As Chairman of the Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children,  Deputy Attorney General Cole has led the efforts to raise awareness; increase coordination at the federal, state, tribal and local levels; and provide assistance to the field. 

The DEC Task Force recently developed a combined resource CD for law enforcement and child welfare agencies; new training courses at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; and developed a drug endangered children resource website.

The National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (National DEC) is one of the DEC Task Force’s best allies. This year they received a $1.2 million in grants from the department. With this funding, they’ve transformed from an informal association of state leaders to a national voice for training, technical assistance, and advocacy on behalf of abused and neglected children.

COPS Director Melekian:

The better the availability of training opportunities focused on identifying and helping drug endangered children, the better chance we have of making this a central part of law enforcement’s mission to serve and protect.  And it needs to be clear that there is an alternative to the violence and fear that is part of the daily lives of these children…With the right tools and information, we can reduce the incidences of children’s exposure to violence and intervene more effectively.

In addition to the national organization, state-level DEC groups are finding innovative solutions to share with their state and federal partners.

For example, the COPS Office awarded the Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children funding to expand their Drug Endangered Children Tracking System (DECSYS).  DECSYS is an easy-to-use, web-based system that allows law enforcement and child protection agencies an automated process for identifying children at risk.

This can expedite the identification of children in danger and bring them the assistance they need.  In the last two years, DECSYS has been credited with a 150 percent increase in the number of drug endangered children identified for child protective services.  It will soon launch in Nevada and Wisconsin.

U.S. Attorney Grissom spoke about coordination and collaboration:

Our coordination and collaboration with the Southern District of Iowa and the National DEC Alliance serves as an example of the power of partnerships;  this training will encourage partnerships, and provide tools for law enforcement, victim service providers, medical personnel,  welfare workers, educators  and other professionals to protect our most valuable resource, our children.    

While investigation and  prosecution will be discussed at this conference, the conference will focus on the importance of partnerships to assure the safety of children, enforce state and federal laws, and identify alternatives to incarceration that are designed to maintain,  or reunite families.

By bringing together federal, state and local resources with advocates, experts and community leaders, we can raise awareness of the plight of drug endangered children nationwide. We can increase coordination and intervene early to stop the cycle of violence and ensure these vulnerable citizens have the bright future full of promise they deserve.

To learn more about Drug Endangered Children, visit justice.gov/dec.

 
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