TTHE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
WEED AND SEED
POWER OF PREVENTION NATIONAL CONFERENCE
WEDNESDAY, JULY 14, 2004
Thank you, Nelson. Good morning. I'm thrilled to be back home again in Indiana, participating in this important and galvanizing event. It gives me great pleasure to see the distance the Indianapolis site has covered since 1992, when, as the the U.S. Attorney for this district, I had the honor of helping to start this city's Weed and Seed program. That same year, I became the first director of the newly created Executive Office for Weed and Seed. We had started with only three sites in 1991, which increased to 20 in 1992 when we opened the office. Now, more than 300 communities across the country have adopted and are employing the Weed and Seed strategy.
In February, I had the privilege of addressing the first conference combining the Justice Department's Weed and Seed Application Kit Workshop and the Department of Health and Human Services' Power of Prevention Regional Meeting. It is truly gratifying to see that spirit of cooperation and collaboration continuing here.
Collaboration, after all, is what Weed and Seed is all about. It is what has made the difference in all those 300 plus communities. Federal, state, and local agencies no longer look at one another as rivals in a territorial scuffle, but as partners in a mission. And government, businesses and community groups are working hand in hand with residents to solve problems, recognizing that it is the residents who are the true experts, who know what their neighborhoods need most.
That collaboration is working. Neighborhoods once ravaged by crime and drugs are now places of opportunity. Streets that police officers once feared to patrol are now busy with life. And homes that were once virtual prisons for terrorized residents now have doors open to friends and family.
You, the people here today, and your colleagues back home, deserve the credit for this change. You are the ones who had the courage to stand up against the criminal element. You had the foresight to look around you for ideas and to reach out for help. And in so doing, you created partnerships - partnerships born of trust and respect and nurtured by care and attention. You are to be commended for your vision and for your determination.
There's a special place in my heart for Weed and Seed and for the prevention efforts it inspires and emulates. And it's not only because of my involvement in helping to start a Weed and Seed program or in running the national office all those years ago that I have such fealty. Actually, and this some of you will find ironic given the agency I represent - an agency traditionally best known for making grants - I value the strategy because it transcends dependence on the dollar.
What do I mean by this? I don't mean that money doesn't matter. Weed and Seed here in Indianapolis is now supported by some 50 grants totaling about $34 million. What I mean is that these programs weren't put together on the fly to respond to some federal or state grant solicitation written by an agency that hadn't the slightest idea of the issues facing individual communities.
Instead, what you did was to band together with people from across the spectrum - from law enforcement, social services, the non-profit and faith communities, and residents themselves - to determine what problems you were facing. And only then, after making a valid assessment of the issues and devising a sound strategy for addressing them, did you make requests for funding.
And, as many of you have discovered, money follows vision. Once you had completed all that up-front work, you discovered that potential support was everywhere.
Moreover, you were now in a better position to make a case for that support. Believe it or not, funders want their programs to work; by planning strategically and collaboratively, and obtaining community-wide buy-in for your vision, you are giving the funders an opportunity for success as well. Put another way, if you act strategically and collaboratively, and can demonstrate successful outcomes, the money will look for you.
This last point -- demonstrating successful outcomes -- is just as critical as the others. As Nelson said in his remarks, you should never confuse activity with achievement. You must be able to determine whether what you are doing in the community is actually making a positive difference; and if you measure your performance, and can document positive outcomes, trust me -- the funders will find you.
My agency, the Office of Justice Programs, wants to meet you half way. The first part of our mission is - and I quote from our mission statement - "to provide federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime…" And we seek to do this in part by forming partnerships with other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as national and community-based organizations. But primarily, we seek to provide leadership in helping local communities develop the capacity on a local level to collaborate, to plan strategically, to execute their strategy, and to ensure positive outcomes. Just like the Home Depot ad says, "You can do it. We can help."
Developing community capacity is at the core of OJP's being. So in March, we established the Community Capacity Development Office to take the Weed and Seed concept and apply it broadly. The office is in place not to serve as another funding component of OJP, or even to subsume any of the long-established grant programs administered by the agency. Rather, it exists in recognition and awareness of the dynamic needs of your community.
We don't know what those needs are. And the federal government can't solve your problems. But we can help you to plan strategically, collaborate widely, and leverage resources intelligently.
Nelson Hernandez, the first Director of the Community Capacity Development Office, brings a fresh and important perspective to those efforts. His background in community development and the empowerment of lower-income people will help to keep our focus on the economic contributors to drug abuse and violent crime, and the economic engine for community revitalization.
He will also carry on the very good work of his predecessor, Bob Samuels, whom I will have the opportunity of honoring a little later. For more than a decade, Bob has demonstrated the same commitment and dedication to the Weed and Seed initiative that all of you have shown. As he turns over the reins to Nelson, he can be justly proud of a job well done.
Weed and Seed will be the flagship program in the CCDO, but we will expand its collaborative, community-driven approach to many other programs. One of those, and in fact one I encourage you to include in your Weed and Seed strategy, is our Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. Every year, more than 630,000 criminal offenders are released from prison and returned to communities. Two-thirds of them are rearrested within three years of release, many committing serious crimes while under parole supervision.
The problem of recidivism is clearly a serious one for communities. Returning offenders pose a significant threat to community safety unless those communities take a systematic approach to help them on the way to a crime-free life. Communities with strong, problem-solving coalitions like yours have built-in strengths that make them naturals for dealing with this problem.
The Reentry Initiative is helping communities to develop, activate, and evaluate strategies to reduce the risk of repeat offenses by former prisoners. Although the program has a funding aspect, it is designed mainly to help communities develop a strategy for re-integrating ex-offenders into the community safely. This includes helping you to navigate the vast sea of discretionary and block grants - in job and life skills training, in housing, in drug treatment, and so on - and to leverage those resources in support of a comprehensive reentry strategy.
The Initiative takes its cue from Weed and Seed by targeting resources strategically. Funds have been made available to support efforts like institution-based readiness programs, electronic monitoring, transitional housing, mentoring programs, and reentry courts. And additional funds will be available this year for targeted services, including improvements in collaboration.
This approach will be further enhanced by the President's Prisoner Reentry Initiative. That new initiative, announced in the President's State of the Union speech this year, proposes to make $300 million available over the next four years, primarily for job training and placement, transitional housing, and mentoring. When smartly and strategically allocated, funds can make a difference.
But I want to emphasize again that federal funding is not the answer; it is only a piece of the puzzle. As President Bush has said, "The government can put money in a person's pockets, but it can't put hope in a person's heart, or purpose in a person's life." Much good has been done without it, in fact.
I can give you a perfect example from right here in Indiana. The controlled reentry program in Fort Wayne is a national model whose efforts have already made an impact. During the first 22 months of its operation, only 12.5 percent of the 200 violent offenders who came through the program committed another offense, compared with a 67 percent rate before the program.
This dramatic drop in reoffending has paid off in two ways. The community has been saved the costs associated with investigating, prosecuting, and imprisoning offenders for these new offenses, and - the real payoff - its citizens are safer. And Fort Wayne accomplished this by leveraging already available resources at the local level - not with additional federal grant money.
So you see, it can be done, and done effectively, without new federal funds. The resources are already out there in your communities - in job training and placement efforts funded by the Department of Labor; in community corrections programs and probation and parole offices; in housing opportunities made available through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But it often requires opening our arms a little wider and welcoming into the fold those who were once kept on the margins - helping them to change their hearts in order that they may change their behavior.
I am thinking in particular of the faith community. Much has been made in recent years of the tension between faith and funding. And the debate has had the unfortunate consequence of keeping faith-based groups at arm's length when it comes to community collaboration. But let me assure you that DOJ, HHS and other federal agencies value our friends in the faith community, and we invite them in as partners.
You have already learned that lesson in Weed and Seed communities. Our dedicated, compassionate brothers and sisters in the faith-based community are the gatekeepers, the ones who can tell you where real problems lie and what form those problems take. They are the ones who have greatest access to those who need help. And it is their mission, the foundation of their faith, to provide that help. President Bush called them "neighborhood healers in the compassionate delivery of help," and he has made clear that they are to be welcomed in our efforts.
Gun violence is another problem for which the Weed and Seed approach is well-suited. Three years ago, President Bush announced his Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative. He did so by calling for, in his words, "a national strategy to assure that every community is attacking gun violence with focus and intensity."
Under this coordinated approach, U.S. Attorneys sit down with local law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to diagnose the unique problems associated with gun violence in their jurisdictions, then work side by side with them to address those problems.
The objective is to link existing local programs that target gun crime and provide those programs with the additional tools necessary to be successful. The goal of Project Safe Neighborhoods is to help communities move quickly to put gun-wielding criminals behind bars, and to send a message that they will be dealt with firmly.
PSN has helped state and local governments hire almost 600 new gun prosecutors in areas with a high incidence of gun violence. And we're providing funding to hire more federal gun prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, and develop and promote efforts to involve residents in becoming agents of change in their own communities.
This last factor, the involvement of the community, is what makes the difference and makes an aggressive prosecution program an effective tool, enabling law-abiding citizens to defeat crime and make their neighborhoods safer.
Our investment is paying dividends. Gun crime prosecutions are up and gun violence is down. In one year, a surge of prosecutions in Kansas City, Missouri, helped bring the city's murder rate down 23 percent to its lowest level in three decades.
Lake Charles, Louisiana saw a 30 percent reduction in gun crimes from 2002 to 2003.
And one of the forerunners and exemplars of Project Safe Neighborhoods - Operation Ceasefire in Boston - transformed what was once a hotbed of youth violence into a city where gun-wielding criminals now fear to tread.
PSN, with its specific concentration on reducing violent crime, is a natural tool to use on the weeding side of Weed and Seed. Weed and Seed funding can complement its funding for prosecutors, for example, by supporting gun task forces in Weed and Seed sites. So I encourage you, if you've not already done so, to work with your U.S. Attorney to develop and implement a PSN program in your community.
I want to make one final point about Weed and Seed - and this goes for all your prevention activities as well. These efforts should not be seen as a DOJ or an HHS initiative. If you see as your goal the receipt of a grant from one of these agencies, then you have misunderstood the point.
What we hope to see is a thoughtful, well-planned, and well-coordinated strategy that runs like a thread through all sectors of your community. Any funding that comes your way is strategically directed to meet specific objectives. But what we ultimately hope to see are results that last well into the future.
Yesterday, Mayor Peterson recognized three Weed and Seed communities in Indianapolis that have graduated, all showing significant reductions in crime since they were first recognized as Weed and Seed sites. We consider ourselves unsuccessful if, after five years, you continue to rely on a DOJ Weed and Seed grant to operate.
By the same token, this graduation should mean recognition by federal, state, and local agencies, foundations, and the private sector that a successful Weed and Seed community is a good investment. We hope to see a point system in federal grant programs whereby successful communities receive credit for having mastered collaboration, strategic planning, and resource leveraging. And we expect that this federal recognition will influence other potential funders as well.
So what you represent is a complete shift in the traditional paradigm. No longer are your strategies simply applied in response to the generic mandates of a grant program. It is your strategic planning that now actually drives the program. Funders are no longer dictating to you. You are telling them what you need. And the voice of an entire community is there to back you up. Truth be told, this is really what they want to hear.
So I exhort you to keep pushing, even when the going gets tough. Keep everyone at the table; be strategic and tactical together; set goals and together lay out a workable plan for reaching them; execute that plan, using government, the not-for-profit and private sector funders not as the drivers, but as full partners with you; and you will succeed.
As you follow that path, you might find useful the words of Walt Disney, who was not only a creative genius, but also a philosopher and a doer: "We'll be making progress, not just moving ahead. Progress is dreaming, working, building a better way of life."
You honor your communities by dreaming, working, and building a better way of life. I thank you for the great honor of addressing you today.