U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

2005 Fall Self-Governance Conference
Washington, DC
October 11, 2005

Thank you, Ron.

I'm so pleased to be here today. This is almost a homecoming for me. As some of you know, I was with HHS for a few years before I came to the Office of Justice Programs, and I had the privilege of addressing the spring self-governance conference back in May.

It's good to see some familiar faces, and some new ones as well.

I'm glad to see that the business of the self-governance consortium is still in full swing. What you're doing is important because it affects so much of life in tribal communities.

When I was head of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at HHS, I was closely involved in helping to improve the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government. One of my proudest professional moments was when former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson signed the Tribal Consultation Policy, which I was privileged to helped formulate.

That policy helped to streamline the process of soliciting feedback from tribal leaders on HHS policies and issues.

We also began holding annual regional consultations and a yearly budget consultation. Those reforms both increased and enriched the feedback HHS now gets from tribes. And I believe the agency is more responsive to tribal needs as a result.

My appointment as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs has given me a new opportunity to strengthen the relationship between tribes and the federal government. It's also allowed me to renew my pledge to help tribal communities by fostering connections between people who are running good programs and people who want to get started.

OJP has a four-part mission:

  • To enlarge the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime.
  • To improve the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
  • To increase knowledge about crime and related issues.
  • And to assist crime victims.

Underlying each of those elements is OJP's desire to provide communities the support they need to address the problems brought on by crime.

Now, that may sound like a statement of the obvious. After all, we are, among other things, a funding agency. But we pride ourselves, not simply on administering funding, but on helping communities identify their own problems and design their own strategies to address them.

In fact, our tag line is "Partnerships for Safer Communities." And we work to promote partnerships as the basis of any good crime-fighting strategy.

One of the best examples of our deference to community needs is the assistance we provided at Red Lake after the tragic shootings in March.

Through one of our bureaus, the Office for Victims of Crime, we helped to send, at the tribe's request, a team of victim-witness coordinators from the FBI to provide debriefings in the immediate aftermath of the shootings.

The tribe then called our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to ask for help in identifying resources to plan, begin, and sustain culturally appropriate programs.

We were able, right away, to reprogram funds from an earlier grant to institute healing camps. These camps involved tribal elders, mental health counselors, and school representatives in healing circles for youth and families.

We also met with tribal leaders and community members - again, at their behest - to develop a strategy for meeting the short- and long-term needs of the community. Through those meetings, we were able to pinpoint some available federal and state resources, including some from our own juvenile justice office.

Thanks to the collaboration from the meeting, the tribe put together sound proposals for three juvenile justice programs, which we funded just last week.

The funding will help the tribe hire a clinical psychologist to work with at-risk youth. It will support a diversion and restitution program for juveniles who enter the court system.

It also will infuse the tribe's juvenile justice system with resources to deal with the backlog of cases on the docket. In addition to increasing the opportunities for pre-trial diversion, it will hire a juvenile prosecutor, a pre-trial investigator, and a post-trial case manager. And it will allow the tribe to take advantage of available technology to update its case-tracking system.

Our goal is to increase juvenile accountability, because we believe that accountability is the way to contain and prevent violence and delinquency.

Bob Flores, the director of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, will be visiting Red Lake in the coming days to follow up on those efforts.

In addition to our juvenile justice funds, we made a special award under our Office for Victims of Crime victim compensation program to help pay medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, lost wages, and other expenses incurred by victims of the shootings and their families.

OVC also awarded a grant to establish a family violence center at Red Lake. The center will house a hospital-based treatment program to serve victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and rape.

In total, we have awarded more than $1.3 million to the Red Lake Nation.

The tragedy at Red Lake is the worst possible outcome of problems that have been festering in tribal communities.

It would be redundant and pointless to recount the challenges that tribal youth and tribal communities face. But I think it is worth mentioning that American Indians are victims of violent crime at a rate of more than twice the national average. In fact, rates of violent victimization for both males and females are higher for American Indians than for all races.

Until we join in honest partnership with tribes in working toward a solution to these problems - until we commit ourselves to a sustained and strategic response to crime and violence in Indian country - tribes stand little chance of realizing the dream of safe and peaceful communities.

OJP is working hard to help tribes achieve that dream. We recently awarded more than $28 million to almost 100 tribes to help them fight crime and delinquency and to help victims. These programs will support improvements to tribal justice systems. They will help establish juvenile and mental health programs. They will help to prevent crimes associated with drugs and alcohol. And they will establish tribal victim assistance programs.

One of those programs is the Tribal Youth Program Mental Health Initiative at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. The high school drop-out rate in Taos is 25%.

Through the program, the tribe has begun addressing the drop-out and truancy issues by providing mentoring to young people. It also has engaged law enforcement and youth and family service providers - both on and off the reservation - to work with non-violent juvenile offenders.

This approach of involving law enforcement agencies and community organizations in partnership with schools has worked well in communities throughout the country, and I'm confident that it will help to curb truancy and delinquency at Taos.

Another program is the Tribal Youth Courts out in Alaska. Those of you from Alaska know better than anyone what it's like to be isolated from basic services. The nearest law enforcement or judicial agency may be more than 100 miles away, and access to many remote villages is by small plane only, weather permitting.

Getting there is itself a challenge, much less providing the intensive services that violent and delinquent youth need.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks is working to establish youth courts in 14 villages. Those courts will use peers and tribal leaders and elders to deal with delinquent and self-destructive behavior by applying traditional principles of restorative justice.

Youth courts represent a general and successful trend toward alternatives to traditional adjudication. With guidance from justice system professionals, young people run the courts and decide on sanctions for their peers.

We're seeing plenty of evidence of their effectiveness. In jurisdictions that operate youth courts, rates of crime, substance abuse, and truancy are going down. This is because kids are learning accountability, and they're getting the message that they matter.

Our efforts to stem the tide of juvenile crime and violence in Indian country are an important part of our work to support the Helping America's Youth Initiative, which President Bush announced in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

The goal of Helping America's Youth is to help young people make healthy decisions and to give them opportunities for being productive citizens. It's no accident that kids who lack access to community support mechanisms do things like join gangs and commit crimes. We should be there to provide that support.

The President said we need to "give young people better options than apathy, or gangs, or jail." And that's what this initiative does. It provides options - healthy, constructive options - and it helps gives kids a leg up in finding their way in the world.

Helping tribal youth is a vital part of our work in Indian country, but it's not the only part.

We also support tribes in their efforts to improve their court systems. Any hope of attaining justice hinges on the effectiveness and integrity of the court. We're working with tribal court systems to support court operations, improve case management, and train court staff. We're also helping tribes to create diversion and alternative sentencing programs, as well as intertribal court systems.

We're also providing funding and training to Indian country victim assistance programs. These programs offer basic services such as counseling, shelter, and emergency transportation, and they incorporate traditional methods of help and healing.

We're about to reach out to tribes to involve them in the national AMBER Alert network. AMBER Alert is a nationwide emergency response system set up to recover abducted children. All 50 states now have AMBER Alert plans in place. As the national AMBER Alert coordinator, I want to improve communication across jurisdictions. Tribal communities can play an important part in strengthening our network.

And through our Community Capacity Development Office, we're taking a look at ways to help tribes develop commercial codes to aid in community economic development.

I've given you a pretty good sampling of the many ways OJP is involved in Indian country. I want to emphasize, though, that we're not interested in imposing our ideas on how to solve tribes' problems.

Like the programs of any government agency, ours are governed by rules and regulations that determine how funds can be used. But those rules and regulations set fairly broad standards that give recipients substantial flexibility.

We want our programs to be responsive to the needs of tribes. We want to work with you to ensure that you're getting the help you need to meet the challenges that crime and criminals bring to your communities. And if you're not getting the help you need, we want you to tell us.

My commitment to tribes was strong at HHS, and I've carried that commitment to OJP. I can assure you that, while I am Assistant Attorney General, OJP will use its resources to support tribal communities in every way it can.

Thank you for your time.

Back to Speeches

Stay Connected Rss E-mail Facebook Twitter YouTube

Go to Top
RSS E-mail Facebook Twitter YouTube