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A Commitment to Environmental Justice
August 8, 2011 Posted by

All Americans deserve to be protected from environmental health hazards. That is why last week, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced an agreement and signed a “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU). As part of this agreement, federal agencies will develop environmental justice strategies and provide the public with annual progress reports on their efforts. These efforts will help protect the health of those living in communities overburdened by pollution so they can thrive.

Attorney General Holder highlighted the role this partnership will play in fighting for environmental justice stating:

“Today’s memorandum will reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the guiding principles of environmental justice – that the wealth, poverty, or race of any people should not determine the quality and health of the environment in which they live their lives. These are important steps to ensure that environmental justice is an integral part of our work.”

Environmental justice is a major priority of the Department of Justice and the EPA. Its goal is to provide all Americans – regardless of their race, ethnicity or income status – full protection under the nation’s environmental, civil rights, and health laws and to make sure that certain communities are not unfairly burdened with pollution, contaminated storm water, or toxic chemicals. Those who live in these environments face disproportionate health problems and greater obstacles to economic growth when their communities cannot attract businesses and new jobs.

The signing of the EJ MOU is the latest in a series of steps taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation and address the inequities that may be present in some communities. Last September, the reconvened Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) met for the first time in more than a decade. In December, at the White House Environmental Justice Forum, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior Administration officials met with more than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country to engage advocates on issues that are affecting their communities, including reducing air pollution, addressing health disparities, and capitalizing on emerging clean energy job opportunities. The EJ MOU reflects the dialogue, concerns and commitments made at the forum and other public events.

Executive Order 12898 “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” named federal agencies responsible for making environmental justice part of their mission and working with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJIWG. This agreement furthers these responsibilities by broadening the reach of the working group to include participant agencies not originally named in the Executive Order.

The agreement also provides for areas of focus for federal agencies to consider as they prepare their environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports, including the impacts of climate change and commercial transportation and the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Finally, it emphasizes the need for public input into agencies’ environmental justice work. 

 The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration.

More information about The Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice is available from the EPA.

The Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act: Another Tool to Fight Transnational Crime
August 5, 2011 Posted by

Around the globe today, criminals are seeking to exploit the lack of transparency associated with U.S. companies to harm our national and economic security. Major drug trafficking cartels, arms traffickers and other criminal organizations have employed shell corporations to further their illegal activities and launder their ill-gotten proceeds. 

The Department of Justice joins our partners at the Departments of Treasury and Homeland Security in welcoming the introduction of an important bill  (PDF) this week in Congress to “combat U.S. corporations with hidden owners” that would require disclosure of beneficial ownership information in the company formation process.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division noted:

“It is essential to our national and economic security that we close the loophole enabling some of the world’s worst actors in the criminal underworld to use shell companies established in the United States to move and hide their money. The proposed legislation represents an important step toward that goal.”

This proposed legislation would facilitate the transparency of the financial system by making it more difficult for criminal organizations to hide behind front companies and shell corporations, an objective referenced in the President’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime announced last week.

West Virginia Anti-Violence Strategy Addresses Female Offenders
August 4, 2011 Posted by

The following blog appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director, Office on Violence Against Women

This summer an important partnership to implement the Attorney General’s Anti-Violence Strategy was launched on the grounds of the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, West Virginia. United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II and I announced the three main components of the strategy, known as Project POWER – Preventing Offenses of Weapons, Enforcement and Reentry.

United States Attorney Ihlenfeld used the day to highlight a major effort to educate female inmates about the dangers of knowingly purchasing firearms for someone else in hopes that this education will help prevent them from returning to jail once they are released.  The prevention and intervention efforts in West Virginia include outreach to female inmates, with the goal of helping them avoid abusive relationships once they are released.

The day began with a discussion with twelve women inmates at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail. These women were victims of abuse as children and later at the hands of husbands or boyfriends, men who later pressured these women to commit crime. For these women, abuse was a normal, everyday part of life.  Now they were behind bars at a women’s prison talking about what brought them there and what they would need to succeed when they were released. 
 
These women have goals and hope to better their lives after serving their time. They want to then start a new path.  Unfortunately they will leave prison with limited resources. Most will be registered felons, be jobless and have limited job opportunities.  As one woman expressed, “We’re not interested in reentry, we need to reinvent ourselves, and we will need help to do that.”  Sadly, most of the women lamented that upon release, it will be their abusers who will be there to take them home, using their children as tools of manipulation unless they have access to sufficient resources to live independently.
 
The efforts of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to address intervention and prevention initiatives are key to ending the cycle of crime. The women at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail said they wished someone had talked to them in school – perhaps a teacher, a guidance counselor, or a guest teacher in a health class.  Although many of them knew of, and applied for, domestic violence protection orders, very few of them had advocates that helped them along the way.  And, no one had educated them about the restrictions on access to firearms for those who had abused them, and the dangers to victims of their involvement as purchasers for weapons intended for someone else’s use.
 
Even though the history of the twelve women in West Virginia cannot be changed, their futures and the futures of countless other women, can have better outcomes.   The commitment to the Attorney General’s Anti –Violence Strategy by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Bureau of Prisons, the West Virginia Department of Corrections, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Lee Day Report Center and the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services will spearhead the change envisioned by U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld.

In addition, the West Virginia effort includes outreach to high school students.  Planned programs include former female inmates sharing their experiences. These are important steps.
 
We have learned that to be effective in preventing violence and abuse in our homes and communities, a coordinated community response is an important factor for success.  The efforts underway in the Attorney General’s Anti-Violence Strategy in West Virginia for training, education and public outreach – including those efforts targeting victims of domestic violence and at-risk youth – offer all of us an opportunity to share resources and knowledge for providing services to those who need them, while at the same time holding perpetrators accountable.

We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

FBI Director Mueller Continues His Service
August 3, 2011 Posted by

Last week, the President signed legislation that will allow Robert Mueller to extend his service as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for an additional two years. Attorney General Holder supported this decision, saying in an earlier statement:

“In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Bob Mueller led the transformation of the FBI into what today is the world’s pre-eminent counterterrorism agency.  One of the most respected prosecutors of his generation before joining the FBI as its Director, he has earned the confidence of two Presidents for his ability to lead and his calmness under fire.   

“A short-term legislative change will allow Bob to remain at the FBI for an additional two years so the President’s counterterrorism team can continue to work together seamlessly.  The United States faces ongoing threats from terrorists intent on attacking us both at home and abroad, and it is crucial that the FBI have sustained, strong leadership to confront that threat.  There is no better person for that job than Bob Mueller.  I hope he will be allowed to continue providing the able leadership and unquestioned integrity for which he is known for the remainder of the President’s term.”

Today, Director Mueller was sworn in by the Attorney General while accompanied by his wife. For more information about Director Mueller and the FBI visit FBI.gov

Attorney General Holder Reaffirms Commitment to Indian Country at Wounded Knee Memorial Site
August 3, 2011 Posted by
Attorney General Holder lays a wreath at Wounded Knee

Attorney General Holder lays a wreath at Wounded Knee

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Rapid City and Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota to have a robust government-to-government discussion with administration officials and tribal leaders on matters of tribal safety and domestic violence. The tribal listening conference coincided with the one year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) into law—a measure aimed at helping both tribal governments and the federal government better address the unique public safety challenges facing Native American communities across the country.  

Attorney General Holder also participated in a special wreath laying ceremony at Wounded Knee. 

Nearly half a century ago, following his tenure as Attorney General, Robert Kennedy also traveled to Pine Ridge to signal the U.S. government’s commitment to ensuring peace, security, opportunity, justice on tribal lands.  President Bill Clinton returned to the site in 1999. “Today, this commitment lives on – and it has been renewed, and strengthened, by this Administration,” said Attorney General Holder. 

“It is a profound honor to be in Pine Ridge, and to bring greetings from the President, and from my colleagues at the Department of Justice.  It is a privilege to join with you all today – not only to remember the past, and the loss we commemorate on this site – but to plan for the future we seek, and – together – must build.

“This is a sacred place – one hallowed by the tragic events that occurred here more than 120 years ago – but also defined by the resolve, the healing, and the courage it has come to represent in the decades since.  Today, it’s my honor to lay this wreath on his behalf – and on behalf of all those who have struggled, and who continue to fight, to ensure peace, safety, opportunity, and justice on tribal lands.”

Soon after he came into office, Attorney General Eric Holder identified building and sustaining safe and secure tribal communities as one of the Department of Justice’s top priorities—in line with his key goals of addressing violent crime and protecting our nation’s most vulnerable. In June of 2009, the Department launched a wide-ranging initiative to strengthen public safety in Indian Country. Since that time, the Department has taken a number of steps to deepen its commitment to tribal communities and to develop more effective partnership with tribal leaders, police, prosecutors, courts, and advocates to combat crime in tribal communities.

Strengthening Our Commitment to Indian Country
July 29, 2011 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli.  

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Tribal Law & Order Act (TLOA), an historic piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2010. That anniversary represents an important moment to reflect on the work that has been done to address the crisis of the public safety in tribal communities and to recognize how much work remains to be done.

To offer just a snapshot of what’s at stake, studies show that nearly three out of five Native American women had been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners and one third of all American Indian women will be raped during their lifetimes. We also know that, on some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average. Tribal leaders, police officers, and prosecutors tell us of an all-too-familiar pattern of escalating violence that goes unaddressed, with beating after beating, each more severe than the last, ultimately leading to death or severe physical injury.

With these sobering statistics in mind, soon after he came into office, Attorney General Eric Holder identified building and sustaining safe and secure tribal communities as one of the Department of Justice’s top priorities—in line with his key goals of addressing violent crime and protecting our nation’s most vulnerable. In June of 2009, the Department launched a wide-ranging initiative to strengthen public safety in Indian Country. Since that time, the Department has taken a number of steps to deepen its commitment to tribal communities and to develop more effective partnership with tribal leaders, police, prosecutors, courts, and advocates to combat crime in tribal communities.

All U.S. Attorneys with Indian Country jurisdiction were directed to consult with tribes and develop specific operational plans to address public safety in tribal communities, and to ensure that the prosecution of crimes against Indian women and children is a priority. They were also directed to increase communication and develop new partnerships with tribal prosecutors and courts. The Attorney General created a Violence Against Women Federal and Tribal Prosecution Task Force to better coordinate efforts between the Department and tribal governments and to recommend best practices in ending the scourge of domestic violence. And this week, Attorney General Holder, 30 U.S. Attorneys, and other administration officials met in Rapid City and on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to engage in listening sessions with tribal leaders and hear from advocates in the fields of tribal safety and domestic violence.

The Justice Department has also directed an unprecedented increase in personnel to fight Indian Country crime. Today there are more federal prosecutors and victim specialists working in Indian Country than ever before. In the past two years, in addition to the dedicated professionals already working in Indian Country, the Department has deployed 28 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute violent crimes in Indian Country, and the FBI has deployed 9 new investigators and 12 new victim advocates into areas where victim services are needed most.

Finally, the Department is engaging tribal youth in the areas of healthy relationships and lifestyles, education, substance and alcohol abuse, cultural preservation, community development and protecting the environment–in an effort to have lasting effects on families and communities. This week, the Department is hosting the National Intertribal Youth Summit in Santa Fe, NM to provide an opportunity for Obama administration officials to hear directly from 175 young men and women from nearly 50 tribes in Indian Country.

Without question, however, enactment of the TLOA has been a major step in our efforts to combat crime in Indian Country. The TLOA brought long overdue reforms that will over time further empower tribal governments, and strengthen their ability to keep neighborhoods safe and hold criminals accountable. At the same time, the law placed new obligations on the federal government to work in partnership with tribal authorities to address public safety for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The Department of Justice embraces those responsibilities and is working hard to implement all of the TLOA’s provisions. But even after the TLOA is fully implemented, we must recognize that there is and will remain much work left to be done to make tribal communities safe and secure. The TLOA was landmark legislation, but it cannot be the end of our efforts. For that reason, in addition to all of the many investments that the Department is making in Indian Country, it is also advocating for more tools to address a problem that tribal leaders across the country have identified as a top priority – ending the scourge of domestic violence.

Last week, the Obama Administration unveiled a new proposal for legislation to combat the epidemic rates of violence against Native women in Indian Country. The proposed legislation offers a broader set of tools for Federal and tribal law enforcement agencies to hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their crimes. It builds on the philosophy of the TLOA by recognizing that tribal authorities, in collaboration with their federal partners, are best able to address crime in their communities if they are given the tools and resources needed to do it.

We look forward to working with tribal leaders and Congress on this legislation. In spite of the work of many dedicated people in the law enforcement and support services communities, there are still victims of crime who are afraid to raise their voices, and many law enforcement agencies without sufficient resources to meet existing challenges. As we celebrate this first year since TLOA’s passage, we are reminded of the great need that still remains, and we renew our commitment to finally end the public safety crisis facing American Indians and Alaska Natives.

For more information about The Department of Justice’s commitment to Indian Country, visit TribalJusticeandSafety.gov

 
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