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Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder Announce New Efforts to Address the Needs of Confined Youth
June 9, 2014 Posted by

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This past March, staff from the Departments of Justice and Education met at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to hear from a group of seven formerly incarcerated youth. This amazing group – most of them now over the age of 18 – shared their experiences with the juvenile justice system. 

No two stories were the same.  Some youth shared that they received no educational services at all, not even books to read, during their time in the facility.  While several youth had been identified as having disabilities before they were incarcerated, many did not receive services aligned with their individualized education programs.  Among the students who did receive instruction, the courses available did not provide credits toward a high school diploma. 

We are grateful to these youth for their resilience, leadership, and bravery as they speak out about their experiences.  It is time that we match our gratitude with a new commitment to reform, to ensure that every child placed in a facility has access to high-quality education services and the supports they need to successfully reenter their schools and communities. 

Today, leaders from 22 agencies joined us for a Federal Interagency Reentry Council meeting to discuss actions to reduce reentry barriers to employment, health, housing and education for individuals who are transitioning from incarceration to community.  The meeting comes on the heels of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force Report, submitted to President Obama last week, which recommends new action to address the persistent opportunity gaps faced by too many youth, particularly boys and young men of color, and ensure that all young people who are willing to do the hard work to get ahead can reach their full potential , including new efforts to enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education. 

In keeping with that recommendation, we announced to our federal partners that we sent a letter to each state school superintendent and each state attorney general.  The letter highlights the importance of supporting youth in facilities, describes how federal dollars can fund improved services and signals our coming work to clarify the components of high-quality correctional education services.

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This step continues recent work by federal agencies to support incarcerated youth in juvenile justice facilities.  We’ve funded model demonstration projects for students with disabilities returning from juvenile facilities and commissioned a report from the National Academy of Sciences to better understand the developmental needs of incarcerated youth.  Moving forward, our departments will invest in a joint initiative to design an evidence-based education model for returning youth and to support demonstration projects in selected jurisdictions.    

Our work builds upon the recent groundswell of state and local efforts, as well as private initiatives and investments in research, dedicated to strengthening services for incarcerated youth.  Last year, we were amazed by the efforts at Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings Youth Development Center to provide all youth with access to English, Math, Social Studies and Science classes aligned with the standards of the District of Columbia’s public schools.  During our visit to the facility, students were reading Night, by Elie Wiesel. 

Maya Angelou Academy has set the bar higher for our youth in juvenile justice, and others are doing the same. 

States such as Oregon, Indiana and Pennsylvania are increasing access to technology as one strategy for connecting youth in juvenile facilities with academic content comparable to their peers in traditional schools. 

Thanks to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, we now have consensus among researchers, practitioners and advocates – from the fields of education, health, juvenile justice, and law enforcement – regarding the necessary steps to keep youth in school, prevent their entry into the justice system and ensure that youth in facilities get the supports and services they need. 

Plenty of work remains. Too many places still exist where youth in facilities do not have access to quality education services, or worse, receive no services at all. We know that there is often confusion among education and justice officials about who is responsible for students’ education once they are placed in a juvenile detention setting.  But we are heartened by the work of the Council of State Governments, the National Academy of Sciences, and others – an effort that represents growing national agreement that we have a collective responsibility to support, nurture and prepare juvenile justice-involved youth.   

That’s why we spoke up in a recent federal lawsuit in support of incarcerated youth with disabilities who alleged that they were placed in solitary confinement for 22 hours or more per day, discriminated against on the basis of their disability, and denied their right to a free and appropriate public education. 

As noted in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report, when young people come into contact with the juvenile or criminal justice systems, these interactions should not put them off track for life.  The president has set a goal that, by 2020, our nation will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world and that all Americans complete at least one year or more of college or career training.  We must ensure that our youth in correctional facilities can play their part in achieving that vision.

 

June 2014 Update on the Tax Division’s Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks
June 5, 2014 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of the Tax Division

On Aug. 29, 2013, the Department of Justice released its Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks.  The Program required Swiss banks to submit letters of intent to the Tax Division no later than Dec. 31, 2013, requesting consideration for a non-prosecution agreement.  In January 2014, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally of the Tax Division announced that the Tax Division had received 106 letters of intent. 

The Tax Division has been engaged in extensive discussions with those institutions.  Based on these discussions, the Tax Division has announced additional comments regarding the Program as well as extensions of certain Program deadlines.    

The Tax Division has published on its website a document that contains these additional comments.

POSTED IN: Tax Division  |  PERMALINK
Bureau of Justice Statistics Recognized for Studies on Prison Rape
June 5, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and its data collection agents received the 2014 Policy Impact Award from the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) for their innovative and salient efforts to measure sexual victimization in correctional facilities under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA).

AAPOR, a leading association of survey research professionals, stated in the award citation, “the findings, and their extensive publicity, have triggered special investigations by governors and state legislatures and immediate changes in policies and plans of action. Findings from the project are now cited extensively in training for correctional administrators on how to prevent and respond to prison rape. Without these data, national standards for best practices to eliminate rape and other related violence among prisoners could not have been promulgated.”

BJS has released 14 separate reports on prison rape since 2004. Television, print media, researchers and public interest groups extensively covered the findings at local, state and national levels. Coverage included 32 articles in newspapers and magazines and a series of four articles in The New York Review of Books.

AAPOR selected the PREA team for its outstanding work developing a state-of-the art, multi-measure, multi-mode approach that relied on both victim self-report surveys and administrative records. When Congress passed the PREA bill in 2003 it required BJS to measure sexual victimization in correctional facilities and publish rankings of facilities with the highest and lowest rates of sexual victimization. At that time there was no infrastructure for such a data collection and there was little agreement on a methodology that would generate accurate estimates. Both inmate self‐reports of sexual victimization and reports from facility administrators were considered high risk for both over-reporting and underreporting of incidents.

“We had to develop a complex statistical infrastructure that would enable us to measure a very sensitive issue that was far more nuanced than we knew,” said Allen J. Beck, BJS Senior Statistical Advisor and program lead. “The prison rape data collection represents a 10-year effort to build a program for accurately measuring the prevalence of sexual victimization in the nation’s more than 7,600 correctional facilities covered under PREA,” he added.

The BJS-led team actively reached out to all stakeholders as it developed survey protocols, measurement strategies and reporting criteria. The team established definitions of sexual victimization that would hold true for each survey and facility, addressed complex human subject concerns such as protecting respondents from retaliation by other inmates or facility staff, set statistical standards for defining high-rate facilities and developed a plan for disseminating the findings. Almost immediately upon release, the BJS data led to several direct policy or program actions at local, state, and federal levels.

The PREA statistics program includes four separate collections: the Survey on Sexual Violence, the National Inmate Survey, the National Survey of Youth in Custody, and the National Former Prisoner Survey. These combined surveys reach a level of data collection not seen previously. They assess the incidence of sexual victimization in correctional facilities through victim self-reporting, survey facilities’ administrative records, reach out to ex-offenders now living in the community, and survey youth held in juvenile and adult facilities.

The PREA effort shows the effectiveness of combining the talents of BJS and four major data collection agencies―RTI International, Westat, NORC at the University of Chicago, and the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition to Allen J. Beck, BJS principal staff involved in the PREA research were former BJS statisticians Paige M. Harrison, Paul Guerino and Christopher J. Mumola. Among the data collection agencies, the principal staff included David Cantor, John Hartge and Tim Smith at Westat; Marcus Berzofsky, Rachel Caspar and Christopher Krebs at RTI International; Candace Johnson at NORC; and Greta Clark at the U.S. Census Bureau.

Allen J. Beck accepted the 2014 Policy Impact Award from AAPOR on behalf of the PREA team at the annual AAPOR conference in Anaheim, Calif. on May 17.

Dr. Beck is also a former recipient of the Attorney General’s Award for his work on PREA.

Visit www.bjs.gov for all BJS PREA-related reports and documents and additional information about BJS’s statistical publications and programs.

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Reframing Public Defense: Upcoming Webinar about Federal Funding Opportunities
May 20, 2014 Posted by

Upon assuming office, Attorney General Eric Holder set out to improve the indigent defense crisis in the country. In March of 2010, he established the Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ) with the goal of improving the justice delivery systems that serve people who are unable to afford counsel in both the civil and criminal contexts. Throughout his tenure, the Attorney General has asked members of his Department to address this crisis in the work they do each day. For example, on June 19, 2010, he told an audience in Wilmington, North Carolina:

Let me assure you … that this is not a passing issue for the Justice Department. I have asked the entire Department to focus on indigent defense issues with a sense of urgency and a commitment to developing and implementing the solutions we need. As many of you know, we recently took an historic step to make access to justice a permanent part of the Department’s work, with a focused effort by our leadership offices to ensure that this issue gets the attention it deserves.

One area ATJ has focused on is increasing awareness among the defender community about existing funding sources. According to a report from the United States Government Accountability Office in May 2012, the Department of Justice administered 13 grant programs from fiscal years 2005 through 2010 that recipients could use to support indigent defense, 4 of which required recipients to use all or part of the funding for that purpose and 9 that did not. Among the 9 grants that did not require allocations for indigent defense, two-thirds or more of state, local, and tribal respondents reported that they did not use funds for it. And, approximately only 54 percent of grantees or public defender offices were even aware that such funding could be used to support indigent defense.

In an attempt to shrink this information gap, in 2013, ATJ, in partnership with the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) and the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), co-hosted three webinars about federal grants available to defenders: Strengthening Indigent Defense: Understanding State and Federal Resources; Expanding Stakeholder Involvement: Promoting Inclusive System Planning; and Strengthening Court Systems: Understanding State and Federal Resources. These introductory webinars sought to raise awareness about these grants and to provide viable strategies to ultimately become defender grantees.

The webinars particularly spotlighted the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program, administered by the Office of Justice Program’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). With an average of $370 million in appropriations, it is the largest of the Justice Department’s grant programs and is considered the cornerstone of federal support for state and local criminal justice systems. Defenders, however, have not consistently been a part of state and local planning processes for allocating Byrne JAG funds, and funds dedicated to indigent defense constitute only about 3 percent of all criminal justice expenditures in our nation’s largest localities.

This low percentage may be the result of a variety of factors but the defender information gap and lack of involvement of the defender community in the state planning process are chief among them. Not surprisingly, the GAO report found that Byrne JAG funding is more likely to be shared with a broader range of stakeholders if they are included in the planning process. “Specifically, among the 4 percent of JAG grantees who reported that representatives of the indigent defense community were involved in the decision making process, 22 percent reported allocating funding for indigent defense. In contrast, among the 52 percent who reported that representatives of the indigent defense community were not involved in the decision making process, 2 percent reported allocating funding for indigent defense.” 

In an effort to engage indigent defense stakeholders in the planning process, BJA added language to the grant solicitation, that its “recommended guidelines are that at a minimum, the strategic planning process includes law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, indigent defense providers, victim advocates, and corrections officials.” The grant solicitation also notes that a “key priority area [for State Administering Agencies to consider when trying to maximize the effectiveness of their funding] is support for indigent defense.”

To further this positive momentum, on May 15, 2014, ATJ once again teamed up with NCJA and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association to host a fourth webinar, that provided a deeper dive into funding strategies for defenders. The webinar, Reframing Public Defense, featured an excellent panel, including Edward C. Monahan, Public Advocate, Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, and Jeff Adachi, Public Defender, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, who described the work of their offices and the collaborations they have entered into to enhance their competitiveness for local, state, foundation, and federal resources. The webinar is currently available on the NCJA website.

POSTED IN: Access to Justice  |  PERMALINK
60 Years Later: Fulfilling the Promise of Brown v. Board of Education
May 19, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of the Civil Rights Division 

Six decades ago, in its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court observed, “…it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.  Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” 

Education is the foundation of the American dream.  It offers a gateway to opportunity and to a better future, especially for poor and disadvantaged communities. 

Since the 1960s, the Civil Rights Division has fought hard to dismantle racial discrimination and segregation in our nation’s public schools.  As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown, the struggle for equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination is not over, and the division is vigorously enforcing civil rights laws to ensure that the promise of Brown is better realized for all of America’s schoolchildren. 

In many cities the vestiges of segregation continue to persist.  With a docket of nearly 200 desegregation cases, the division is actively working to ensure that school districts still under court orders, such as Cleveland, Mississippi, where two high schools less than a two miles apart are still racially identifiable, meet their long overdue obligation to integrate schools. 

The division also works to ensure that districts provide all students with equal access to curricular offerings, including the coursework necessary to prepare them for college, and extracurricular activities.  In Monroe City, Louisiana, the division reached an agreement in 2010 to end severe educational inequities between schools with virtually all black student populations and schools that served most of the district’s white students.  Prior to the agreement, at one high school with 100 percent African-American enrollment, the district offered only five gifted and honors courses and not a single Advanced Placement class.  By contrast, the district offered nearly 70 Advanced Placement, gifted and honors courses at a high school whose student population was 43 percent white.  The division’s consent decree requires the district to take steps to offer the same courses at all of its high schools. 

In recent months, the division has worked to address a more modern form of exclusionary policy: disparities in school discipline.  Too often, the effects of school discipline policies are not felt equally—students of color and those with disabilities receive more frequent and more severe punishments than their peers for comparable misbehavior. 

Last year, a division investigation into disciplinary practices in the Meridian, Mississippi, public school system alleged that black students frequently received far harsher discipline, including arrest and expulsion, than white students for comparable misbehavior. 

A minor school discipline offense should not land a student in a police precinct.  The adverse effects of early interaction with the juvenile or criminal justice systems can be permanent, limiting young peoples’ opportunities for education, employment, housing and even the right to vote for the rest of their lives. 

The division’s agreement with the Meridian school system to stop racial discrimination in school discipline was the first of its kind.  To ensure that other districts know how to prevent situations like the one found in Meridian, the Departments of Justice and Education also released guidance to public schools across the country on their obligations to carry out student discipline without discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.  This guidance provides templates for schools to adopt effective disciplinary practices that avoid discrimination and take steps to keep all students in school. 

As a government, we have a critical responsibility to fight together to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children.  This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, the Civil Rights Division remains committed to using all available tools to ensure that every child can learn and thrive without being discriminated against or segregated because of their background. 

The Civil Rights Division’s “Fulfilling the Promise of Brown v. Board of Education” fact sheet is available online.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and Continuing the March toward Justice
May 16, 2014 Posted by

Editor’s Note: On Saturday, May 17, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. ET, Attorney General Eric Holder will deliver remarks of reflection at the Morgan State University commencement ceremony where he will commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The address will be live streamed at www.morgan.edu/live.

By U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett

Decades ago, nearly 200 plaintiffs from across the country joined together in a class-action lawsuit to challenge the doctrine of “separate but equal,” striving to bring the issue of racial segregation before the highest court in the land.  Their dangerous, long, and grueling march culminated exactly 60 years ago tomorrow – on May 17, 1954 – at the United States Supreme Court.

On that extraordinary day, a unanimous Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, declared that separate was inherently unequal, effectively outlawing racial segregation in schools and other public accommodations throughout America.  This marked a major victory for the cause of equal justice under law, an inflection point in American history, and a spark that in many ways ignited the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Yet our nation did not automatically translate the words of Brown into substantive change.  The integration of our schools was a process that was halting, confrontational, and at times even bloody.  And, for all the progress our nation has seen over the last six decades, this is a process that continues, and a promise that has yet to be fully realized, even today.

While the number of school districts that remain under desegregation court orders has decreased significantly in just the past decade, the Department of Justice continues to actively enforce and monitor nearly 200 desegregation cases where school districts have not yet fulfilled their legal obligation to eliminate segregation “root and branch.”  In those cases, the department works to ensure that all students have the building blocks of educational success – from access to advanced placement classes, to facilities without crumbling walls and old technology, to safe and positive learning environments.  The Departments of Justice and Education are also working together to reform misguided school discipline policies that fuel the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  Some of these policies, while well-intentioned, have resulted in students of color facing suspensions and expulsions at a rate three times higher than that of their white peers.  And the Administration is moving in a variety of ways to dismantle racial barriers and promote inclusion, from America’s classrooms, to our courtrooms, to our voting booths – and far beyond.

As we continue these efforts, reflect on this milestone anniversary, and recommit ourselves to the critical work that remains before us, it’s worth remembering that the outcome in Brown v. Board was never inevitable.  It was brought about by citizens from all walks of life across the country.  For six decades, it has provided resounding proof that – within the framework of our judicial system, and through the power of collective action – progress is possible.  And today, it continues to show us that those who are willing to struggle, to march toward justice, to stand up for a principle, or simply to take a seat – in a courthouse or a classroom, at a lunch counter or the front of a bus – can, and do, change the world for the better.

Learn more: Read the Presidential proclamation marking the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

POSTED IN: Uncategorized  |  PERMALINK
 
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