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“We Are All Our Brothers’ Keepers”
March 5, 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.

Attorney General Holder Meets with Tribal Nations Leadership Council
February 27, 2014 Posted by

Attorney General Eric Holder met this week with members of the Tribal Nations Leadership Council (TNLC) at the Justice Department.  The council, which meets twice a year with the Attorney General and with numerous officials of the Justice Department, was created in 2010 and consists of tribal leaders from around the country. The TNLC advises the Attorney General on issues critical to tribal communities.  On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the council heard about and discussed progress and challenges facing their communities in ensuring public safety, protecting tribal lands and natural resources, and civil rights, among others.   One area of progress noted was the recently announced pilot project under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013), as well as reflected on the first two public meetings of the Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence in Bismarck, N.D., (December 2013) and earlier this month in Phoenix.  The group also discussed tribal grant making at the Department, which has resulted in more than $430 million in grants under the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation over the past four years. 

As Attorney General Holder commented: 

The Tribal Nations Leadership Council plays a critical role in fostering open dialogue between the Justice Department and tribal governments throughout the country. Especially in recent years, we have begun to take historic steps forward in tribal sovereignty and self-determination, including through the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.  In many areas, federal and tribal partnerships are strengthening public safety.  And they are enabling us to invest in the future by focusing on the needs of children, finding ways to reduce the traumatic impact of violence on young lives, and nurture native youth leadership.

The TNLC is composed of tribal leaders selected by tribal governments to advise Justice Department leadership on an ongoing basis, and is the fulfillment of a pledge made by Attorney General Holder at the department’s Tribal Nations Listening Session in October 2009. The TNLC is composed of one tribal leader from each of the twelve regions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs:

Tribal Nations Leadership Council Members:

Michael J. Stickman, First Chief, Naluto Village, Alaska
Lynn Malerba, Chief, The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, Connecticut
Ron Sparkman, Chairman, Shawnee Tribe, Oklahoma
Bryan Brewer, President, Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota
Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota
Ben Shelly, President, Navajo Nation, Arizona           
W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman/Executive Director, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Washington
Juana Majel Dixon, Councilwoman, Pauma-Yuima Band of Mission Indians, California
Merlin Sioux, Council Member, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Montana
John Barrett, Jr., Chairman, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Oklahoma
Diane Enos, President, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
Gary Hayes, Council Member for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Colorado/Utah

Ensuring the Right to Counsel for All Individuals
February 20, 2014 Posted by
This blog is posted courtesy of DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance policy advisor Kim Ball.
February 11, 2014

By: Kim Ball, BJA Policy Advisor

Last year, our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). This case unanimously established that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that states appoint lawyers for those accused of a crime that carries a potential loss of liberty who cannot afford to hire an attorney. In the years since Gideon, state governments and policymakers have struggled with finding the most effective ways to make their courts fair, promote public safety and fiscal responsibility, and ensure quality representation for all defendants at every stage of a criminal proceeding.

Last year, to help state policymakers and legislators evaluate their public defense services, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) committed $90,000 to technical assistance to help several states meet their constitutional obligations to provide quality legal representation for all defendants.

Recently, BJA NTTAC provided funding for the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD) to work with the Sixth Amendment Center (6AC), a non-profit organization that specializes in providing right to counsel technical services. The OSPD and 6AC worked together to examine how the delivery of trial-level public defense is provided across the state. With the help of the 6AC, the OSPD surveyed judges, county executives, and public defense providers to document how trial-level services are delivered at the circuit court level. The OSPD compiled survey responses into a map and data table, and disseminated these findings back to criminal justice stakeholders for review. According to David Carroll, 6AC Executive Director, “doing this comparison allowed local policymakers and stakeholders to see their county in the context of others.”

Next, the 6AC compared Mississippi’s public-defense delivery system with its four neighboring states, which also proved helpful to the OSPD and stakeholders in understanding where Mississippi’s public defense delivery system ranks in relation to comparable states. Using the findings of the survey and comparison to the other states, the 6AC will provide a report to the OSPD identifying potential shortcomings in Mississippi’s trial-level public defense services and offer recommendations to address them. The full report will be made public in March 2014 and will be made accessible on the OSPD and 6AC web sites.

Mississippi is just one state among many looking for ways to improve its state-wide public defense delivery system. “Helping states measure their public defense systems against established standards of justice is a critical step in living up to the ideals of the Sixth Amendment,” said Carroll. “The right to counsel is fundamental and essential to fair trials.” Policymakers and state governments are becoming more and more aware there is a public defense crisis, and are looking for ways to address it by working with organizations like the BJA NTTAC and the 6AC to identify problems and look for solutions.

If you are interested in submitting the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future TTA Today blog post or to obtain information related to a particular topic area, please email us at nttac@bjatraining.org.

POSTED IN: Access to Justice  |  PERMALINK
Attorney General Holder Marks 20th Anniversary of Historic Executive Order on Environmental Justice
February 11, 2014 Posted by

Twenty years ago today, our nation took a significant step forward on the long road to securing a more just and equal nation.  On February 11, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, requiring every federal agency to address environmental justice in low-income communities and communities of color.  This order built on existing efforts by the administration, members of the legal community, environmentalists, advocates, and citizens at the time – as well as countless pioneers who had gone before – to remedy the health, safety, and economic consequences of environmental problems that disproportionately hurt historically disadvantaged communities.

Decades earlier, in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. consistently spoke out about the prevalence of pollution in low-income neighborhoods; the proximity of hazardous facilities to communities of color; and the dangerous and deplorable working conditions for Americans of modest means.  It was this work that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee, first in March of 1968 to lead African American sanitation workers in a strike – and then, several days later, to take part in a march with these workers that was scheduled for April 5th – a day he would not live to see.

In the years that followed, countless Americans have been inspired by Dr. King and others to speak out, to engage, and – thanks to important directives like President Clinton’s Executive Order – to bring about once-unimaginable progress.  Yet, despite all that’s been achieved, research shows that low-income families and families of color are still more likely than other American families to find themselves living in communities with contaminated water and polluted soil.  Their neighborhoods are still more likely to be close to industrial waste sites and more vulnerable to the placement of landfills nearby.

That’s why the Department of Justice remains committed to advancing the aims of President Clinton’s Executive Order, and integrating environmental justice principles into its everyday work and mission.  Many examples of how the Department has moved, in recent years, to reinforce and bolster the objectives of the Executive Order can be found in our third Implementation Progress Report on Environmental Justice, which we are releasing today.  From working collaboratively with our client agencies to ensure that environmental justice is a part of government decision-making; to participating in dialogues with government agencies, grassroots environmental advocates, industry representatives, and tribal governments on environmental justice issues; to promoting the effective use of civil rights statutes, particularly Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in tandem with federal environmental laws to secure the goals of the Executive Order, we are acting on our resolute commitment to addressing environmental, socioeconomic, and racial inequities wherever they exist.  As the report also details, we have achieved demonstrable benefits and effective legal remedies for vulnerable populations that have been adversely impacted by violations of environmental laws.  But this work is only the beginning.

All Americans can be proud of, and encouraged by, the progress that has been made in recent years.  But there’s no denying that a great deal of work remains before us.  For as long as I have the honor of serving as Attorney General, the Department of Justice will continue to prioritize environmental protection.  And I am confident that, by working closely with key federal partners and other stakeholders across America, we will be able to keep building on past successes, advancing shared goals, and realizing the promise of environmental justice.

Pedro’s Story: When Given the Chance, People with Disabilities Can Overcome Barriers to the American Dream
January 31, 2014 Posted by

This post is courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

Every day, countless Americans with disabilities are excluded from accessing important ladders of opportunity.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important tool for challenging assumptions and discrimination that trap people with disabilities in poverty and segregation.  When given the chance, people with disabilities are establishing their rightful place in the greater American workforce and the middle class, and are showing that they, too, can achieve the American Dream.  Pedro is one such person.

When Pedro graduated high school in 2010, at age 21, he found himself at home with no job prospects and no career direction.  A native Spanish speaker with intellectual disabilities, Pedro’s education had not prepared him to enter the general workforce; instead, he was headed for a life of segregated employment and below-minimum wages. 

Pedro attended a Providence, R.I., high school where students with intellectual disabilities participated in an in-school “sheltered workshop,” where there were no students without disabilities.  The students spent their school days sorting, assembling and packaging items such as jewelry and pin-back buttons, earning between 50 cents and $2 per hour for their labor.  Rather than providing the education and services needed to help them transition into regular jobs, the school prepared students for segregated, below-minimum-wage work in adult sheltered workshops.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2013 investigation of Rhode Island found that, indeed, the school-based workshop was a direct pipeline to a nearby adult workshop.  

Like many before him, Pedro began working at the adult workshop after high school.  Staff described Pedro as an excellent worker who stays on task and performs well, but he was paid just 48 cents an hour.  And because people who enter this workshop often stay there for decades, and are rarely offered help to move into community-oriented jobs, Pedro’s career outlook was dim. 

That all changed in June 2013 when the department entered into an interim settlement agreement with the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence, requiring the state and city to provide the employment services necessary to help workers at the adult workshop and students at the school-based workshop move into integrated, competitive-wage jobs.  At the same time, the Providence Public School District closed the school-based workshop so students with disabilities can focus on education and career preparation. 

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (the agency) announced that it has entered into a settlement agreement with the City of Providence, the Providence School Board and Pedro’s former high school after the agency’s investigation found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Under the agreement, students will receive back pay for the work they did at the sheltered workshop.

Pedro was interested in the restaurant industry, so in 2013 he joined a culinary arts training program and 12 weeks later, helped by federal and state services, Pedro began working in the kitchen at a restaurant in the community.  He has excelled and forged strong working relationships with other employees.  Pedro says that he loves his job.

The owner of the company describes Pedro as the heart of the business.  “He has a great personality and loves working here,” he says.  “But more than just a personality, he does a great job.” 

In December 2013, just a few months after starting at the restaurant, Pedro was Employee of the Month.   His manager said that Pedro was chosen for the award because “he has changed the culture of the company by inspiring everyone around him to reach higher; he has led by example.”  Pedro has become known for his positive work ethic and his commitment to teamwork. 

Pedro started his job with a  job coach, funded by the state and federal government, but because the restaurant position was such a good match for Pedro and natural supports developed so quickly, Pedro no longer needs coaching, and is now helping the coach train other new employees with disabilities. 

Pedro deeply values his new job, where he has the chance to work with peers without disabilities, earn a competitive wage and employee benefits and enjoy the advantages of community employment.  His supervisor points out that the company, too, has experienced major benefits.  She describes the strong sense of pride in hiring Pedro, and giving him the opportunity to realize his capabilities and participate in the greater American workforce:  “It’s a very fulfilling experience to see Pedro mainstream himself, to show responsibility and to see him getting an honest wage for his work.” 

Pedro’s life is on a new path – and there’s no looking back.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
2013 Record Year for Medicare Fraud Strike Force
January 28, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division

Every day, the nation’s health care system is victimized by criminals intent on lining their own pockets at the expense of the American taxpayer, patients and private insurers. And every day, members of the Justice Department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force aggressively investigate and prosecute these criminals, put them in prison, and prevent them from stealing millions from U.S. taxpayers.

Since its inception in March 2007, strike force prosecutors – under the supervision of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices in nine cities across the country and in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services – have charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program more than $5.5 billion. In Fiscal Year 2013 alone, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (46). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

According to a recent report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for every dollar the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services have spent fighting health care fraud, we’ve returned an average of nearly eight dollars to the U.S. Treasury, the Medicare Trust Fund and others. And these actions have helped to deter other would-be criminals from even attempting to defraud the Medicare program.

We can all be proud of this remarkable progress, but this is just the beginning. We have made combating health care fraud part of our core mission at the Department of Justice, and we are determined to keep moving forward – to thwart ongoing fraud schemes, to hold accountable those who steal from the Medicare program and to prevent this conduct from happening in the future.

 
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