Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Voca-Tribal Victim Assistance and Compensation Conference
May 5, 2006
Thank you, Dennis [Greenhouse]. Good morning. It's a pleasure to be part of this first national joint conference of tribal officials and VOCA administrators. I think it's about time that we finally bring together our state administrators and the men and women who serve crime victims in Indian country.
I want to thank the OVC staff for their good work in organizing this conference and for their commitment to tribes and to American Indian victims.
I especially want to welcome tribal leaders and to thank them for their participation in this groundbreaking session.
I see this conference as a great opportunity for the Office of Justice Programs. The issues facing tribes are very important to me, and have been for a long time. Before being appointed Assistant Attorney General, I was head of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, where I served under Secretary Tommy Thompson – a true champion of tribal communities.
One of my proudest accomplishments at HHS was the development of the Tribal Consultation Policy that is now in effect there. That policy opened communication between tribes and the department, and it has helped to streamline the process of soliciting feedback from tribal leaders on HHS policies and issues. I believe the agency is more responsive to tribal needs as a result.
My appointment as Assistant Attorney General has given me a new opportunity to help strengthen the relationship between tribes and the federal government. It's an opportunity that I am privileged to have.
The chief responsibility of the Office of Justice Programs is to provide communities the support they need to address the problems associated with crime. And I believe we have a special responsibility to tribal communities.
I take that responsibility seriously because I know the challenges that tribal officials face in keeping their communities safe. Our own Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that the rate of violent victimization among American Indians and Alaska Natives is two-and-a-half times the national average.
Making matters especially troublesome is the lack of resources on hand for fighting crime. Our National Institute of Justice supported a study a couple of years ago that gave a profile of Indian law enforcement agencies. The study shows that a typical police department in Indian country serves a population of 10,000 people living in an area about the size of Delaware . Yet, on average, those sprawling communities are patrolled by no more than three officers. Truly, public safety on American Indian lands is fraught with challenges.
President Bush and the Attorney General are committed to acting on the principles of tribal self-determination and self-governance. The ability to administer justice and to protect and serve tribal members is a critical manifestation of those principles.
I recently established a Justice Programs Council on Native American Affairs. The purpose of this council is to coordinate OJP's and the Justice Department's efforts on behalf of tribes.
Our goal is to find out how we can better serve tribal communities – how we can get information to you more quickly, how we can provide you with better training, and how we can make sure our funding resources respond to your needs.
OVC has worked hard to make sure that tribes have the support they need to fully serve victims. Through the Tribal Victim Assistance Program and the Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities Program, OVC has funded scores of tribes to enhance victim services. This year, we expect to award $3.5 million to support almost 40 additional tribal victim assistance programs.
We've also expanded our outreach by opening funding to all federally recognized tribes, not just tribes governed by federal jurisdiction. Now, tribes in Public Law 280 states like California and Alaska with high populations of native people have access to OVC 's funding support.
And we're helping to promote promising practices. We recently awarded $250,000 to eight tribes to help them tap faith-based organizations in counseling crime victims. Through this program, American Indian and Alaska Native victims now will be able to access traditional healing approaches.
In addition to OVC 's programs, we're seeking ways to make a broader array of our overall resources available to you. One of our vital victim assistance efforts is the work we do to support the national AMBER Alert network. And here we're working hard to involve tribes.
As you know, AMBER Alert is an emergency response system set up to find abducted children. Since AMBER Alert was created 10 years ago, it has helped to recover more than 250 abducted children. Some 87 percent of those recoveries have been made since President Bush called for national coordination of AMBER Alert programs three-and-a-half years ago.
As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I'm charged with working to strengthen the network of systems across the country that are designed to catch child abductors and return abducted children safely to their homes. Today, all 50 states now have AMBER Alert plans in place, as do many regions and local jurisdictions.
We are stepping up our efforts to make sure that tribes are actively involved in our AMBER Alert network.
I've convened several meetings of an AMBER Alert working group to help devise a strategy for improving upon our past successes. One of the group's priorities is improving communication across jurisdictions – particularly across international borders and into tribal communities.
Tribes can play an important part in strengthening our AMBER Alert network. We have already held meetings to identify ways to improve coordination with tribes.
I recognize that it will take work to make our link with Indian country seamless. I'm prepared to leverage our resources to support tribes in their involvement with the national AMBER Alert network.
In July, we will hold a national AMBER Alert conference in Albuquerque . Two days of the conference will emphasize the need for the AMBER Alert system in Indian country. I look forward to the conference and to including tribes in our efforts.
We are also working to help American Indian children who are victims of drug abuse, especially those suffering the devastating consequences of methamphetamine.
Meth has become a serious and growing problem in communities across the country, and it's taking its toll in Indian country. Because of complicated jurisdictional issues, the low ratio of law enforcement officers to residents, and the proximity of some Indian lands to international borders, tribal communities have been targeted by meth traffickers.
The Justice Department is part of an Administration-wide effort to curb meth use, and OJP is making a concerted effort to fight meth in Indian country. The Attorney General recently visited the Yakima reservation to discuss meth with tribal, federal, and state law enforcement officials. He talked about the Department's ongoing efforts to combat the problem, and he announced a new meth training initiative for tribal law enforcement.
A major concern of OJP is the impact of meth on children. Parents who manufacture meth sometimes cook the drug with their children nearby, exposing them to highly toxic fumes and other hazards. Parents who are addicts may go on binges lasting several days, leaving their children entirely neglected. And extended use of meth often leads to changes in temperament, which may lead to child abuse.
One of our important efforts is a new initiative funded by OVC to develop a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center . The resource center will provide critical information to tribes, states, federal agencies, and local communities on how to help children hurt by drugs, including meth.
One of the keys to fighting drug trafficking, and indeed, to public safety generally, is the ability of criminal justice agencies to collect and store criminal justice information and to share that information within and across jurisdictions. A community's capacity to protect itself is seriously compromised when law enforcement officers and others responsible for public safety lack immediate access to information about crime and criminals.
Through the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, or Global, as we call it, tribal, federal, state, local, and international organizations have worked together to overcome the barriers to justice information sharing. Tribal representatives have been an important part of these efforts.
Last month in Albuquerque , we held a training conference for tribal officials to address information sharing in Indian country.
The conference discussed promising tribal information sharing initiatives. We talked about national standards on justice information sharing. And we worked toward strengthening tribal capacity to collect, manage, and analyze crime data.
The development of infrastructure to house and share criminal justice information is important for many reasons, but community safety is reason number one.
Last July, we launched the National Sex Offender Public Registry. The registry offers members of the public immediate and centralized access to information about sex offenders throughout the country, and it provides parents a critical tool for protecting their children from sexual predators.
Today, 48 states, the District of Columbia , and the territory of Guam are linked to the site. In addition to bringing the remaining two states on board, our goal now is to help tribes link to the site.
Several tribes are already working to develop their own registries, including the Tohono O'Odham Nation, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation of Montana, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Our objective is to link these and other tribes to the national site.
We understand the challenges that many tribes face in developing systems that are compatible outside their communities. We want to work with those tribes to overcome these obstacles. OJP staff will be meeting with tribes to identify solutions.
Hand in hand with information sharing is my concern for available criminal justice data in Indian country.
You might ask why data are so important. One reason is that having up-to-date, reliable statistics on the nature of crime, victimization, and criminal and juvenile justice will help us to gain a better understanding of how to target our resources. If, for example, gangs are a special concern in a particular community, we'll want to make sure the assistance we're providing includes strategies to deter gang-related activity, such as providing safe and healthy alternatives for youth.
Another reason that data are so important is that they help you gain access to our resources. I've made a pledge to ensure that tribes have equal access to OJP funding. That pledge includes helping to see that tribes can provide us the information that our grant solicitations call for.
Key to that ability is developing tribal capacity for maintaining criminal history records. Through our Tribal Criminal History Record Improvement Program, or T-CHRIP as we call it, we're helping tribes to enhance the quality, completeness, and accessibility of criminal history information.
The program also helps to link tribes to federal and state records systems, which will allow quick access to criminal justice information outside their jurisdictions and make it easier to conduct effective background checks.
In the coming weeks, we will announce the availability of funding under T-CHRIP. Tribes with police departments, courts or corrections systems, or victim services programs will be eligible. I encourage you to visit our Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov and to watch for the solicitation, which we will post next week.
Meeting the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native youth is yet another critical part of our mission at OJP. Through the Tribal Youth Program, we've funded 177 tribes over six years to support youth development efforts and juvenile accountability. More than 100 of those grants are still active.
But I'm not satisfied with those numbers. We can provide even more support, and I've charged the Justice Programs Council with figuring out a way to market the program and better publicize funding opportunities.
The Tribal Youth Program is an important part of our outreach to tribes and tribal youth, and I think it's given tribes a lift in dealing with some very pressing issues.
For example, the program was a major element of our response to the shootings at Red Lake last March. In the aftermath of the tragedy, we helped identify resources to plan, implement, and sustain programs targeted at youth.
The tragedy at Red Lake is the worst possible outcome of problems that have plagued tribes and other communities for years.
Only by committing ourselves to a sustained and strategic response to crime and violence in Indian country can tribes realize the dream of safe and peaceful communities.
OJP is working hard to help tribes achieve that dream. We've provided support to help them fight crime and delinquency. We've helped to support improvements to tribal justice systems. We've provided aid to establish juvenile and mental health programs. We have given assistance to prevent crimes associated with drugs and alcohol. And, through OVC, we've helped to establish and sustain tribal victim assistance programs.
We're also working on the design of a new Department of Justice Web site devoted to tribal resources. Once it's up and running, the new Web site will allow us to coordinate and communicate important information like training, research, and funding.
I am aware of the good work that tribes are doing to enhance services to victims. I encourage you to share with us your thoughts on how we can better support you in those efforts.
I wish you well in your work. I thank you for your participation in this important conference. And I commend you for your commitment to justice and safety and to the welfare of crime victims in your communities.