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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.

Justice Department Seeks Input for Third Open Government Plan
January 27, 2014 Posted by

The Department of Justice is currently in the process of developing its third open government plan, which will outline additional “actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration” as set out in President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and the Open Government Directive.  As a part of this ongoing process, the department is seeking input from the public for ideas and opportunities to be more transparent, collaborative and participatory in how we carry out our various missions.

If you have any suggestions or ideas that you would like to share with the department as we continue  working on our new plan, please send an email to OpenGov@usdoj.gov with the subject line “3rd Open Government Plan Suggestion” by February 28, 2014.   

The department’s previous open government plans included a variety of new initiatives such as the launchings of FOIA.gov and FARA.gov, the establishment of a quarterly Freedom Of Information Act reporting requirement, and the expanded use of social media by various department components.  Additionally, these plans demonstrated a number of ways in which we collaborate with outside partners and engage the public on the ongoing work of the department.  We welcome your ideas for further ways in which we can serve the public though our newest open government plan and we look forward to completing this process with you.

 For more information on the department’s open government plans and initiatives, please visit our open government homepage.

 

POSTED IN: Open Government  |  PERMALINK
National Institute of Justice Challenge: Create High Speed Software Applications that Improve Law Enforcement, Community Safety
January 27, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of NIJ Acting Director Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D.

Recently, I was pleased to be part of a discussion at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about using open data to support the Department of Justice’s core responsibility: protecting public and officer safety.

It was part of a series of conversations that began in September 2012, when the White House held its first “Safety Datapalooza.”  At that event NIJ announced the first Justice Department Challenge, seeking innovative solutions for determining the performance of body armor.  In November we announced the winner of that challenge — the team from Purdue University’s school of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering.

The Challenge process represents a unique approach to innovation for those of us in government, while it gives the field tremendous creative leverage to develop ideas and products to enhance our ability to meet our public service mission across the government.

The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs has long been active in improving public access to data.  To date, OJP has released almost 700 datasets to Data.gov, covering 20 years of crime victimization statistics, 35 years of prisoner statistics, and 10 years’ worth of grant awards, among many others.  This has allowed developers and the public access to important criminal justice data in open and useable formats.

Keeping the momentum going, we issued another challenge: we’re looking for ideas for the design and creation of Ultra-High Speed Network (UHS)-compatible apps that measurably improve the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice and public safety services and operations. 

These could be apps that alert criminal justice and public safety agencies to threats and disasters and help avoid or mitigate the impact of those disasters.  They could be apps that provide simulation for law enforcement and first responders.  Or they could enhance training and provide new methods of analysis.

Protecting America’s law enforcement officers is one of our top priorities at the Justice Department.  Through body armor standards and testing programs, the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program and our VALOR training initiative, we’ve devoted substantial resources to keeping our law enforcement officers safe.

But we’re always looking for ways to do an even better job of protecting officers.  Our task is how to deliver the rich supply of data available to support public and officer safety quickly and in a manner that improves service delivery.

Until now, we’ve been limited by Web-based technology pipelines, which are subject to buffering and other delays and restrict the amount of data that can be transmitted.  The expansion of UHS networks gives us increased opportunities for the development of “disruptive” criminal justice apps – apps that actually change the way services and information are delivered to criminal justice and other public safety practitioners. 

New UHS apps have the potential to provide ubiquitous, real-time, individually tailored information and decision support for criminal justice and public safety practitioners in rapidly evolving emergency situations.  Some of these changes have already taken place in citywide and local networks in the US, where they have given startups and students  the same opportunity as industry and researchers to develop, test and deploy next-generation apps and services. 

The Challenge is open to everyone who has ideas about ways to use ultra-high-speed apps to keep law enforcement and communities safer. Please accept this Challenge, and create innovative software applications that employ freely available government data to advance public safety.

Learn more about the UHS Challenge, including deadlines and announcement dates.

 
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