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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

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
Fighting for Justice and Survival : Africa’s Wildlife
May 9, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

A delegation of wildlife conservation and environmental officials, as well as nongovernmental leaders, from 13 African nations met today with Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher, trial attorneys and environmental crimes prosecutors from the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). The visitors are participating in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program “Wildlife Conservation: Anti-poaching and anti-trafficking”. Participants learned about U.S. efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and discussed ways to enhance international collaboration to fight the trade. In many parts of Africa, species like the African elephant and the black rhino are threatened with extinction by poachers, often organized and well-armed groups that feed a lucrative international trade in wildlife and wildlife parts.

The Justice Department co-chairs a national task force on wildlife trafficking with the Department of State and Department of the Interior, and with other federal agency partners, all working to carry out the President’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking

Photo of Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher and ENRD staff with the African delegation at the Justice Department

Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher and ENRD staff with the African delegation at the Justice Department 

Read more on the Justice Department’s efforts to fight and end the illegal trade in wildlife and the national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking.

POSTED IN: Uncategorized  |  PERMALINK
Holding Accountable Financial Institutions that Knowingly Participate in Consumer Fraud
May 7, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch 

Frauds targeted at consumers threaten to cause significant harm to the American public.  The Justice Department has made it a priority to hold the perpetrators of consumer fraud accountable.  In the past few weeks, we have successfully prosecuted the operators of lottery scams, the promoters of fake business opportunities, and the criminals behind a telemarketing fraud targeting Spanish-speaking customers.  But fraudsters often can’t act alone.  They need access to the banking system to get money from their victims.  And when financial institutions choose to process transactions even though they know the transactions are fraudulent, or willfully ignore clear evidence of fraud, they are profiting from illegal activities as well as breaking federal law. 

That’s why we are proud to highlight an important result in one of the first civil cases we have brought against a financial institution for unlawfully facilitating a fraudulent scheme to take money from consumers’ bank accounts.  On April 25, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina entered a consent order and approved a settlement resolving the department’s complaint against Four Oaks Bank.  According to the department’s complaint, Four Oaks unlawfully allowed third party merchants to work through the bank to defraud consumers.  Four Oaks’ clients included a Texas-based third-party payment processor – a company that acts as an intermediary between a bank and a merchant in a financial transaction, and often provides access to the national payment system to a wide variety of merchants.  At a merchant’s direction, a payment processor will originate a debit transaction against an individual consumer’s bank account, receive the consumer’s money into its own bank account, and transmit the money to its merchant client.  

Four Oaks, according to the complaint, was specifically informed that many of the transactions requested by the third-party payment processor and facilitated by the bank were reported as fraudulent.  Four Oaks received hundreds of notices from consumers’ banks that the people whose accounts were being charged had not authorized a debit transaction originated by the third-party payment processor.  The bank also knew that at least 13 of the merchants served by the third-party payment processor had over 30 percent of the attempted debit transactions returned or charged back, including one merchant with a return rate of over 70 percent.  (A 30 percent rate is more than 20 times the national average.)  And the bank had substantial evidence of efforts to conceal the true identities of the merchants that were serviced by the third-party payment processor.  Nevertheless, according to the department, Four Oaks permitted the third-party payment processor to originate $2.4 billion of debit transactions against consumers’ bank accounts in exchange for more than $850,000 in fees that were paid to the bank.

The consent order approved by the court requires Four Oaks Bank to pay $1 million to the U.S. Treasury as a civil monetary penalty and to forfeit $200,000 to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Consumer Fraud Fund.  It also obligates Four Oaks to comply with a series of measures designed to prevent it from ever again permitting fraudulent merchants access to the national payment system.  Specifically, the order permanently prohibits Four Oaks from providing banking services to any third-party payment processor that serves merchants determined by banking regulators to be high-risk absent a strict regime of investigation and monitoring designed to prevent future consumer fraud.  The Four Oaks case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Sweet of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and Trial Attorneys John W. Burke and James W. Harlow of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Norman Acker, III of the Eastern District of North Carolina.  Investigative assistance was provided by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 

The result in this case demonstrates that banks and third-party payment processors cannot profit from violating federal law.  Of course, we recognize that most of the businesses that use the banking system are not fraudsters.  We’re committed to ensuring that our efforts to combat fraud do not discourage or inhibit the lawful conduct of these honest merchants.  Our goal in investigations like Four Oaks is simply to enforce the laws that make the financial marketplace work for consumers.

POSTED IN: Civil Division  |  PERMALINK
Staying Involved During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, April 2014
April 23, 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, and for direct help addressing child abuse contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

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