THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
PARTNERING FOR SAFER SCHOOLS CONFERENCE
ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2002
Thank you, Bill, and good morning everyone. I’m delighted to be here today, and I want to thank all the partners who have worked so hard to put this conference together. I understand it’s really 5 conferences in one, and I commend you for joining together to share ideas, establish new partnerships, and renew existing ones.
While this conference is focused on increasing school safety, I think it’s important to recognize, up front, that the majority of our schools are safe places where children can learn and grow. The most recent report on crime in schools from our Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Education found that school crime has actually decreased since 1992.
But we can take little satisfaction from this decrease when we look at another, more chilling statistic. A report by the Secret Service and the Department of Education, with support from our National Institute of Justice, found that, since 1974, there have been 37 school shootings in 26 states. In more than two-thirds of these incidents, students, teachers, or administrators were killed. Of even greater concern is that almost half of these shootings have occurred since 1997.
Schools also continue to experience gang-related, as well as other forms of violence. In 1999, 186,000 incidents of rape, aggravated assault, and robbery occurred in schools. We also know drugs are a persistent problem. While drug use is down generally, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that illegal drug use among youth ages 12 to 17 actually increased slightly last year.
In 2001, almost 11 percent of teenagers reported using illicit drugs in the year preceding the survey, up over a full percentage point from 2000. Marijuana was the major illicit drug used by this age group, with 8 percent of youths being current users. And we know from research that the earlier drug use begins, the more likely a person is to develop drug dependency and other problems, such as delinquency.
So it’s clear that we must do more to make sure that our schools are safe and drug-free places in which to learn and work.
Many states and school districts have already taken positive steps to increase the safety of their schools. New York State, for example, enacted the Safe Schools Against Violence Education - or SAVE - Act in 2000 to legislate safe school planning.
Eighteen states have established school safety centers to serve as resources for their efforts. And the Departments of Justice and Education together established the National Resource Center for Safe Schools to provide training and technical assistance on school safety and violence prevention to public schools and school districts throughout the country.
As you know, the National Resource Center is one of the co-sponsors of this conference. Its goal is to help schools develop comprehensive safety plans, incorporating a number of components that have been shown to be effective, based on research and the experiences of school districts across the nation. These include:
With funding from the Department of Education and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Resource Center is developing technical assistance, in the form of a series of "Guides to Creating Safer Schools." The Guides, which describe successful strategies for school safety planning, are in the final stages of production, and we hope to make them available soon.
I’ve asked our conference coordinator to make sure you all get a copy as soon as they’re printed. And I encourage you to use these guidelines in planning your own school safety initiatives.
At the federal level, we are committed to furthering state and local efforts to increase school safety and improve education for all students. President Bush has made education one of his top priorities and pledged his support "for public schools and their mission to build the mind and character of every child, from every background, in every part of America."
At the Department of Justice, we’re working with the Department of Education and other partners to help ensure the safety of our schools and the healthy development of our children. One such effort is the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, which we support in collaboration with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.
Through Safe Schools/Healthy Students, school districts and communities develop and implement comprehensive, community-wide strategies for creating safe and drug-free schools and for promoting healthy childhood development. The goal is to help students to mature and thrive without resorting to violence or other destructive behaviors.
The program provides funding to enable communities to hire school resource officers; implement prevention, intervention, and early childhood development programs; and provide mental health and other services.
For example, under Safe Schools/Healthy Students, 100 representatives of more than 50 community organizations in Polk County, Iowa, worked together to develop a plan to improve the quality of life for local youth.
They developed a comprehensive drug and violence prevention curriculum, which included school-based mental health and social services, a program to help students transitioning to a new school, and initiatives to involve parents in school and other activities.
If your community has not adopted this kind of comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach, I’d encourage you to consider it as part of your school safety strategy.
Another program of which you may be well aware is youth court. For more than 25 years, youth courts have been teaching young people – both those dispensing and receiving justice under the program – about our nation’s system of justice and how to make sound decisions as they navigate their way through life.
Through youth court, we intend for young people to learn that there are immediate consequences for their actions, that they need to consider the impact of their offense on the victim and the wider community, and that they’re going to be held accountable for making some kind of reparation for their misdeeds.
A recent evaluation of youth court conducted for our Office of Juvenile Justice by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center found that youth handled by these “peer” courts were less likely to reoffend within six months than those in a traditional juvenile court.
And satisfaction with the outcome of youth court cases was high – both among parents and the youthful offenders themselves.
Although youth courts have been in operation for decades now, their popularity is growing as more and more communities see the positive results of these programs for less serious offenders, and as traditional juvenile courts have been forced to focus on more serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders.
Youth court is one of the fastest growing crime intervention programs in the nation. In 1994, there were 78 youth courts in 11 states. Today, there are more than 900 such programs operated by local juvenile justice systems, schools, and community-based organizations in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Of course, we’ll continue to examine the effectiveness of this approach as we move forward, as we must continue to do for all our initiatives. It is essential that we identify what approaches are most effective in reducing recidivism among various populations, and that we make that information available to those in the field promptly.
Part of what makes youth court so unique and appealing is its use of volunteers from the community. Volunteers are an essential part of another highly successful program our Office of Juvenile Justice has supported for a number of years.
The Juvenile Mentoring Program – known as JUMP – pairs positive adult role models with young people at risk of delinquency or school failure. For the past 9 years, we’ve awarded grants totaling more than $56 million to fund 207 mentoring programs in 47 states under JUMP. And just yesterday, we announced $14 million more in JUMP grants to support mentoring programs in 66 additional communities.
JUMP builds on research that has found that the single greatest factor in helping a child to avoid delinquent behavior is a strong, caring relationship with an adult. A study of the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program found that kids in the program were 46 percent less likely to use drugs, 27 percent less likely to use alcohol, and 32 percent less likely to hit someone than kids in a control group who were still waiting to be matched to an adult volunteer.
The study also found that mentored youth skipped school half as many days, felt better about and performed better in school, and had better relationships with their families and peers.
Each year through JUMP, over 1,500 adults volunteer to mentor thousands of at-risk kids. Another 100,000 adults work with kids through Big Brothers-Big Sisters programs.
But researchers estimate that there are between 5 and 15 million kids in this country who could benefit from having a mentor. I encourage you to use your influence to increase support for mentoring initiatives in your communities. If you were to take no other steps to reduce delinquency and improve the lives of children in your community, I would encourage you to set up a properly-structured mentoring system, bring in as many good volunteers as you can, and provide as many kids as possible with caring mentors. And, if you have the time, I urge you to consider becoming a volunteer mentor. It’s one way that even a single individual can have a positive impact on the life of a young person.
There’s one other critical resource that schools too often overlook in their safety planning, and that’s law enforcement. Traditionally, there’s been little communication or collaboration between schools and law enforcement. School officials often hesitate to inform law enforcement about problem students, and law enforcement officers too often don’t think to alert school officials to potential trouble makers.
School Resource Officers offer one solution to closing this gap. In addition to helping to keep the peace in school, these school-based police officers teach crime prevention, Law-Related Education, and substance abuse prevention classes; mentor troubled students; and foster respect between law enforcement and students. Through our COPS In Schools program, the Justice Department has provided more than $670 million to fund and train almost 6,000 School Resource Officers who are serving in schools throughout the country.
In addition to keeping young people from getting into trouble in the first place, the Justice Department also is working with the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and other federal partners to ensure appropriate supervision and services for young people returning to their communities following incarceration. The goal of our Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative is to keep offenders, including juvenile offenders, from returning to crime by helping them learn how to lead productive, law-abiding lives in the community.
This summer we awarded $100 million in grants to 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands to develop prototype reentry programs. These programs will address three stages an offender goes through when returning to the community:
I encourage all of you to become involved in this important community safety initiative. In fact, two of the partners involved in this conference – Street Law and the Center for Civic Education – are providing training and technical assistance to our reentry sites on law-related education. As you probably know, law-related education programs have been very successful in teaching young people about the law and in engendering law-abiding behavior by fostering respect for the law and its institutions.
There’s just one additional Justice Department initiative I want to mention, and that’s the Safe School Technology Program of our National Institute of Justice. This program develops, tests, and evaluates appropriate, effective, and affordable technologies to increase school safety. It then disseminates information and provides technical assistance to school districts interested in implementing these technologies.
More information about this program, and some of the technology under development, is posted on our web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij.
In closing, I want to thank you for all that you’re already doing to make our schools and communities safer. While the Justice Department will continue to work with the Department of Education and other partners to support your efforts, we recognize that most of the work in partnering for school safety must occur at the local level, with school administrators and teachers joining together with parents, students, law enforcement, and other representatives from the broader community.
This conference is designed to help you with your school safety planning efforts. It will look at the issues surrounding school violence and proven programs that schools and community partners – working together – can implement to prevent these incidents, identify early warning signs, get help for kids in trouble, and respond to violent events should they occur.
So I hope you’ll use the information you learn here today to help your community develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure that your schools aren’t danger zones, but are, in fact, places of safety for our nation’s children. And I look forward to continuing to work together with you to ensure that no student is ever afraid to go to school, and that no teacher is ever afraid to walk into a classroom. Thank you all very much.