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Staying Involved During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, April 2014
April 23rd, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

When he proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, President Obama said, “Every child should have every chance in life, every chance at happiness, and every chance at success. Yet tragically, hundreds of thousands of young Americans shoulder the burden of abuse or neglect.” The President urged Americans to remember that we all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect and in helping young victims recover.

Protecting children is a top priority of Attorney General Eric Holder. Since his days as a prosecutor he has recognized the terrible impact of violence, trauma and abuse on children and the importance of coordinating our response. As Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno, he established “Safe Start,” a program designed to reduce the impact of children’s exposure to violence. When he took office as Attorney General in 2009, he picked up where he left off and launched “Defending Childhood,” an ongoing initiative to improve our understanding of the impact of children’s exposure to violence, turning that knowledge into workable strategies and effective programs.

This work comes at a critical time. A study released in 2009 by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention showed that an astonishing 60 percent of children in the United States are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to violent episodes as victims. The consequences of exposure to violence and abuse can lead in the short term to poor performance in school and to drug and alcohol abuse, but far more devastating is the long-term physical and psychological harm to the affected child. Kids who are exposed to violence have higher rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other physical issues. They are at greater risk of future victimization and suicide.

This damage extends beyond the individual children who are affected. We all feel the effects in rising healthcare, criminal justice, and other public costs. This significant public safety problem is fast becoming a serious public health problem – and it requires a wide-ranging response.

The good news is that because children are resilient, intervention and prevention work. OJP’s bureaus are engaged in supporting research that translates into programs and resources for those working with children.

For example, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention helps victims of child abduction and commercial sexual exploitation, and supports mentoring programs for tribal youth and faith-based and community initiatives.
The National Institute of Justice’s Violence Against Women and Family Violence Research and Evaluation program promotes the safety of women and family members and aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system’s response to these crimes.

The Office for Victims of Crime has highlighted the issue with its remarkable series of videos, “Through Our Eyes: Children, Violence and Trauma” and this year will fund demonstration sites to establish a consistent, coordinated response to child and youth victims and their families and caregivers.

We are also collecting information on the needs of underserved populations. Because relatively little is known about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native children, and because what we do know is of great concern, the Attorney General appointed a new task force specifically to study this issue. That task force is now holding hearings throughout the country, addressing the impact of child sexual abuse, the intersection between child maltreatment and domestic violence, and the impact of the juvenile justice system.

This month also gives us a chance to thank those already committed to helping children in need. Recently I was privileged to speak to over 1,000 people at the National Symposium on Child Abuse about their work at child advocacy centers, where children who are brought into contact with our child protective and justice systems are getting the services they need to deal with the trauma they have experienced, such as critical medical care and coordinated and efficient case management.

Eliminating child abuse is a huge challenge. Thousands of children in communities across America need us – all of us – to advocate for their future, to determine whether it will be one darkened by the violence and abuse they have experienced or one lit by care and hope. As the President said in his proclamation, “Our nation thrives when we recognize that we all have a stake in each other. This month and throughout the year, let us come together — as families, communities, and Americans — to ensure every child can pursue their dreams in a safe and loving home.”

I encourage everyone to join in dialogues and community events that put our children front and center in our lives. For Office of Justice Programs resources on this topic please visit http://ojp.gov/, and for direct help addressing child abuse contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

“We Are All Our Brothers’ Keepers”
March 5th, 2014 Posted by

Karol Mason candid

This post is courtesy of Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

Last week I attended the President’s announcement of his new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” a plan to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and play by the rules has the chance to reach his full potential.  The initiative is aimed at finding ways the federal government, community leaders, the private sector and philanthropies can create more opportunities for young men of color and send the message that our country is stronger when all Americans are doing well.  

A key goal of this effort is to address the overrepresentation of African American and Latino men in the criminal and juvenile justice systems and reduce the rates of violence and victimization that they experience. At the Office of Justice Programs we’re taking what we know about adolescent development and working to promote a juvenile justice system that is both effective and fair.  

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that African American young men between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest rate of violent victimization of any race or age group.  For African American young men between 10 and 24, homicide is not only the leading cause of death, but it results in more deaths than the next four leading causes combined. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for Latino youth in the same age group. At the same time, the rates of arrest and incarceration for young men of color are disproportionately high.  African American youth make up just 16 percent of the overall youth population but more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime. As the President said, “these statistics should break out hearts. And they should compel us to act.” 

It is in our collective interest to recognize that the image many people of color have of our criminal justice system is that it is biased against their young men.  We need to simultaneously work to build trust and to end the violence that threatens so many of our youth. The reality is that no one wants to see these problems – not the families who live in these communities, and not the officers who keep the communities safe. The Justice Department’s COPS Office and Community Relations Service, for example, are striving to build trust and mutual respect and a stronger relationship between law enforcement officials and the neighborhoods they serve.  These programs work closely with law enforcement and human service agencies to identify these challenges and design effective solutions.  

At the Department of Justice we are engaged in a number of efforts to encourage and facilitate this collaboration. The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which is led by the White House and involves the Justice Department and other federal agencies, brings all major community stakeholders together to develop strategies for addressing youth violence – citizens, community and faith-based groups, law enforcement, public health, businesses, and philanthropies.  Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also manages the Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program, which supports evidence-based violence reduction efforts that involve community residents in changing norms and helping their youth find a way to avoid crime and violence.  Through the Defending Childhood initiative, we are promoting early intervention programs designed to put kids who are exposed to violence back on the path to healthy development and steer and harmful behavior.  And we provide support for mentoring services that help children who have parents behind bars, and work to keep young people from entering the school-to-prison pipeline. 

But the Department of Justice is only one part of the response.  The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will rely on the resources of the private sector and philanthropies  to use evidence-based solutions to strengthen and replicate programs that work, and reinforce to our young people the message that their country believes in them enough to invest in their success. 

Working together, we can – and will – make a difference.

Understanding the Impact of Children’s Exposure to Violence in American Indian/Alaska Native Communities
November 14th, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason

Yesterday, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the first public hearing of a new task force to examine the impact of violence on children in Indian country. Speaking to leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes, the Attorney General explained that this task force originated with the findings of his Defending Childhood Initiative, which sought ways to reduce children’s exposure to violence.

As Attorney General Holder stated:   

We must not accept the shameful reality that American Indians and Alaska Natives are disproportionately likely to be exposed to crime and violence – and that many who suffer exposure are children. By bringing together federal officials, tribal leaders, and local partners to focus on the unique challenges that Indian children face, this task force will enhance public safety.  And these leaders will strengthen our communities by ensuring that every child can have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to thrive – free from violence and fear.

One of the Defending Childhood task force’s key findings in its December 2012 final report was that American Indian and Alaska Native children experience “extreme levels of violence.”  As one tribal leader put it, “For us…the question is not who has been exposed to violence, it’s who hasn’t been exposed to violence.”  Geographic isolation, jurisdictional complexities, a scarcity of resources, and a host of other challenges demand that we focus special attention on the problems facing American Indian and Alaska Native youth and those who serve them.

The new Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is anchored by both a federal working group and an advisory committee of experts.  The advisory committee will hold its first hearing in Bismarck, N.D., on December 9th and will hold three additional hearings and several listening sessions in 2014 to develop a clear understanding of the scope and impact of children’s exposure to violence in tribal communities and to recommend ways to address it.

The advisory committee will be co-chaired by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah, who have long demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing violence in Indian country.  They will be aided by tribal members and national experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma and child welfare and law—the best and brightest in their field.  Serving without compensation, they will produce a report that will receive the highest level of attention from the Department and the Administration with the goal of developing strategies to protect American Indian and Alaska Native kids from exposure to violence for years to come.

As the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, I am confident that the task force will be successful in guiding our efforts to reduce violence and develop culturally relevant interventions. When I served as the Deputy Associate Attorney General earlier in the Administration, I had the good fortune to lead the team that developed our Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, or CTAS, a hugely successful instrument that streamlined the grant process for tribes and made all Justice Department funding more accessible to tribal applicants. The simplified process also released the creativity of tribes to fashion programs for their members that tap into strengths that are rooted in their culture and customs.  And tribes are doing some truly remarkable things, from traditional healing services for crime victims, to youth programs that bring together elders and young people, to intertribal information sharing partnerships, among other efforts. 

The advisory committee will submit  a report by late 2014, recommending ways, both innovative and traditional, that policymakers, legislators, practitioners, and researchers at all levels can work to reduce the rates at which native children encounter violence and to intervene effectively in the lives of these young people.

The good news is that there are programs and practices out there that can reverse the damage caused by exposure to violence.  It is a matter of determining the nature and the extent of the problem and tailoring those promising approaches to the unique challenges in Indian country, guided by the rich heritage of native communities’ long-standing tribal practices.

I believe that by working together, nation to nation, we can meaningfully help prevent American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence. 

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

Training Law Enforcement to Respond to Active Shooters
October 31st, 2013 Posted by

Tragic events such as the September 2013 mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard and last year’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have continued to increase the demand for training that shows law enforcement how to best respond to active shooter situations. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the FBI have partnered with Texas State University to expedite and increase the delivery of this critical training to state and local law enforcement throughout our country.

At the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, officers receive critical active shooter response training to effectively and safely respond to an active shooter event. The ALERRT curriculum is dynamic force-on-force, scenario-based training. It has been adopted by the FBI as the national training standard for active shooter response, and has been provided to more than 40,000 police officers nationwide.

As Attorney General Eric Holder commented in his remarks earlier this month to the International Association of Chiefs of Police:

“The reality is that police don’t always have the luxury of time to get their most highly-trained, best-equipped officers on the scene. To save lives, the first officers to arrive must sometimes be the ones to directly engage an active shooter. That’s why all law enforcement officers must have the best equipment and most up-to-date training to confront these situations. We owe these officers nothing less.”

The training and support provided at the ALERRT Center is a critical component of the VALOR initiative, a response to the increase in assaults and violence against law enforcement. ALERRT training is designed to help prevent violence against law enforcement and ensure officer resilience and survivability. Watch this video http://youtu.be/sJ2ZtegiRp4 to see what people are saying about ALERRT training and the difference it’s making in preparing our first responders for tomorrow’s challenges.

Strengthening Our Efforts: Recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October 30th, 2013 Posted by

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason

When President Obama proclaimed October Domestic Violence Awareness month on September 30, he noted the progress made since the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  He singled out the fact that domestic violence is no longer hidden behind the closed doors of the home, but has been brought into the national arena as a matter of grave social concern. “We have changed our laws, transformed our culture, and improved support services for survivors,” he said, yet we must “resolve to carry on until domestic violence is no more.”

With this year’s passage of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013), Attorney General Eric Holder stated: “This reauthorization includes crucial new provisions to improve our ability to bring hope and healing to the victims of these crimes, expand access to justice, and strengthen the prosecutorial and enforcement tools available to hold perpetrators accountable.”

The VAWA reauthorization gives better resources to law enforcement to investigate rapes, incentives to colleges to educate students about dating violence, and authority to tribal courts to prosecute anyone – tribal member or not – who commits domestic violence on tribal lands.  VAWA 2013 also adds provisions to aid immigrant and LGBT victims of domestic violence.  More relief for victims comes in the Affordable Care Act, which requires new health plans to cover domestic violence screening and counseling with no copayments or cost sharing.

But despite this progress, one in four women and one in seven men in the United States still suffer serious physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner at least once during their lifetimes. Every day, three women lose their lives in this country as a result of domestic violence.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological. It includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender and affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Throughout this month and the year ahead we are reminded that each of us has a role to play in recognizing and responding to these crimes.

I am proud to say that the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has long provided services and research to assist practitioners, law enforcement and victims.

For example, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1998 to cosponsor the groundbreaking National Violence Against Women Survey , which revealed that violence is more widespread and detrimental to women’s and men’s health than had been previously thought.  NIJ also released a summary of domestic violence research for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on the crime’s perpetrators and victims, as well as the implications of that research for practitioners and policymakers. As part of Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood initiative, in 2010 OJP began to award grants to help communities develop comprehensive, multidisciplinary plans to improve their prevention, intervention and response systems for children exposed to violence in the home and in their communities. 

Our Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) gives priority to domestic violence in its administration of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), requiring states and territories to allocate a minimum of 10 percent of their VOCA assistance funds to serve victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. This makes VOCA funds a primary source of federal support for the thousands of domestic violence programs and shelters in the country. OVC also provides discretionary funds to reach special populations of underserved victims of domestic violence, such as victims living abroad and victims with disabilities.

Some of the most effective work being done in OJP on ending the scourge of domestic violence is in testing theories and practices to find out what really works.  OJP’s “crime solutions.gov” website, administered by NIJ, presents research on the effectiveness of programs and practices and assigns them easily understandable ratings – Effective, Promising or No Effects – so practitioners can study them and determine whether a program that works in one setting can be replicated in another. CrimeSolutions.gov currently shows ratings for 28 programs aimed at stemming domestic violence.  Of these, eight receive the highest rating, “effective,” while 17 are viewed as “promising.”

OJP encourages everyone to use and share our resources, available throughout the year at www.ojp.gov. Learn even more by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or by visiting www.TheHotline.org.  OJP works closely with the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which provides additional resources to address domestic violence: www.ovw.usdoj.gov. The more we know about this once-taboo subject, the more power we will have to end it. As President Obama said, “let us honor National Domestic Violence Awareness Month by promoting peace in our own families, homes, and communities. Let us renew our commitment to end domestic violence – in every city, every town, and every corner of America.”

The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice

A Week to Honor Our Public Safety Heroes
May 17th, 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.

 
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