Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
21st National Conference on Preventing Crime In The Black Community
June 1, 2006
I'm happy to join you here today.
It's good to see so many people interested in talking about ways to strengthen communities. Or, I should say, it's good to be with so many people who are doing the real work of improving the quality of life where they live. I can think of no more rewarding job than working to create thriving neighborhoods that are free of crime.
As the head of an agency whose mission is to help ensure public safety, I consider the welfare of our young people one of my key responsibilities. I think that our effectiveness in protecting children is the acid test by which we at the Office of Justice Programs should measure our success. After all, who depends on us more than the most innocent in our society-our children?
You heard this morning from with Denise Viera and Domingo Herraiz. Both our Community Capacity Development Office and our Bureau of Justice Assistance are providing daily support to our community partners through funding, training, and technical assistance.
In addition, we are supporting partnerships with the faith-based community. Faith-community involvement is an area that President Bush, the Attorney General, and OJP have worked hard to strengthen. I'm proud that, last year, the Department awarded more than $70 million to faith-based organizations.
To those of you who are involved with faith-based organizations, I say keep up the good work! To those of you who haven't reached out to these organizations and to faith leaders, I challenge you to enlist them in your work. They are very effective allies!
I also strongly encourage you to continue working closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office in your district. The U.S. Attorneys' Offices are seeking the input and support of faith-based and community-based organizations and local agencies to reduce crime and violence.
The U.S. Attorney's Offices also are on the front line in our campaign against gangs. They all recognize that in neighborhoods where gangs thrive, everyone is vulnerable. Homes become prisons, and the route to the store or to work becomes unsafe. In some cases, fear becomes the only constant. If we hope to suppress gangs, then we must recognize the tremendous void in the lives of many young people, and we must move now to fill it. As President Bush has said and I quote, "We need to focus on giving young people better options than apathy, or gangs, or jail."
Last month [May 3], I was in Denver with the Attorney General when he announced almost $30 million in grants, training, and technical assistance to fight gang violence. These grants will be administered by the U.S. Attorneys, and will expand our efforts to combat gangs.
We also need to hear your voice. How are gangs affecting your community? What patterns of behavior have you noticed among them? What can we do to combat the problem? These are questions to which you have the best answers.
From Denver, I went to Boston to help the Boys and Girls Clubs celebrate their 100th anniversary. OJP is proud to support the work of these clubs in communities across the country. Over the last century, these neighborhood clubs have welcomed thousands of children and given them an alternative to the streets. Now, as these clubs begin their next century, I would challenge them to focus more on serving at-risk youth who most need the support and mentoring that these clubs provide so well.
Serving at-risk youth also is a top priority of this Administration. Many of you may be familiar with the Helping America's Youth Initiative, which is being led by the First Lady. OJP is one of the key players in that effort. The HAY represents the collaborative efforts of nine federal agencies. Its purpose is to connect at-risk youth with their families, their schools, and their communities in an effort to help them overcome the challenges they face.
You can find the information about this initiative on the Web. The address is easy to remember: www.helpingamericasyouth.gov. I encourage all of you to go to the site. We've put a tremendous amount of research and practical experience into an easy-to-understand format that is available at your fingertips. The site's Community Partnerships section has valuable information and best practices on forming partnerships, making those partnerships work, and involving youth in finding solutions.
In addition to combating gangs, and supporting the HAY program, the Bush Administration is restructuring the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative to address prevention, prosecutions, enforcement, and prisoner reentry. The President's Fiscal 2007 budget request includes $395 million for the Project Safe Neighborhoods program. Since the PSN effort was begun in 2001, OJP has awarded more than $250 million, which has helped to hire some 540 state and local prosecutors nationwide. In addition, $50 million in PSN funds have been used for Project Sentry, the element of Project Safe Neighborhoods that focuses on reducing juvenile gun violence. Project Sentry has allowed district attorneys' offices to hire local prosecutors and fund programs to reduce juvenile gun crime.
This year, we are reorganizing the PSN program to include the very successful Weed and Seed strategy, which now operates in more than 300 communities across the country. We also are making some changes to the Weed and Seed application process. You may have heard some of these details this morning, but the bottom line is that the new process favors communities that are organized and community groups that are already collaborating on crime reduction. Quite simply, we are looking for communities that have completed start-up work and are ready for implementation.
More information about the Weed and Seed program is available on OJP's website. And, as I mentioned earlier, Denise Viera is here at the conference and can answer your questions.
Prisoner re-entry is one of the critical public safety issues of our day. In 2004, more than 670,000 state and federal inmates were released. Two out of three of them come back to the justice system within three years because they've committed other crimes. In fact, these same offenders are responsible for a large share of violent crime in America. Our challenge is to give returning prisoners the skills and support they will need to return to our communities as productive citizens rather than as destructive criminals.
OJP has been at the fore in supporting re-entry efforts. Since 2002, we have provided more than $120 million to states and communities under its Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative - or SVORI, as we call it. Some of the 69 communities supported by SVORI are Weed and Seed sites. This link is important because SVORI borrows heavily from the Weed and Seed concept. Like Weed and Seed efforts, SVORI activities are tailored to the needs of each jurisdiction because they are designed by community stakeholders.
OJP also is playing a key role in the President's Prisoner Reentry Initiative. The President's initiative is a multi-agency effort that focuses on housing, mentoring, and job training and placement. President Bush has made a special plea to faith-based groups to become involved. These groups have answered that call, and the Administration has responded by giving its support. Thirty percent of the amount awarded under the first phase of the program went to faith-based organizations. Those grants were awarded by the Department of Labor to provide post-release services such as mentoring, employment assistance, and housing aid. The Office of Justice Programs followed up the Labor grants last year with $9 million in grants to help states with pre-release planning and services.
Now, I'd like to turn specifically to juveniles. In March, we released our 2006 national report on juvenile offenders and victims. This report pulls together the field's most requested and needed empirical information. For example, the 2006 report notes that the peak in violent crime in the after-school hours on school days is seen in the crimes committed by both male and female, and both white and black youth.
When it comes to juveniles in correctional facilities, the 2006 report has some good news. After many years of increases, the juvenile custody population declined in 2001 and again in 2003. However, today, about 97,000 juvenile offenders are still held in juvenile residential facilities.
The 2006 report notes that most youths in custody are in facilities that screen for substance abuse, mental health needs, and suicide risk. In addition, most juvenile offenders were held in facilities providing on-site substance abuse services. Also, the most common approach to suicide risk evaluation is to screen all youth on the day they arrive at the facility.
I mention these findings because of a disturbing trend. The eminent Harvard researcher Dr. Alvin Poussaint has shown that the suicide rate among young black males has risen dramatically in recent years. As these young men continue to come through our nation's prisons and juvenile facilities, we need to look closely at how we evaluate their risk for suicide.
When it comes to the juvenile reentry population, the 2006 report found that it is mostly male, minority, and 15 or older.
Many reentry candidates have been in custody before, and some have been in custody several times. The good news is that among those who were previously in custody and subsequently reoffended, about two-thirds did not commit offenses that were more serious than their prior offense.
Few reentry youth come from two-parent families. Compared to youth in the general population, higher proportions of reentry youth are themselves parents. These data indicate that substantial proportions of the juvenile reentry population are likely to need extensive supervision and support services when they return to the community.
Of course, none of us has easy answers to these challenges. But, we know that many of the problems we see today in our communities stem from abandoned hope, surrendered opportunity, and neglected dreams. In short, many neighborhoods have simply given up on themselves.
I commend each of you for not giving up - for having faith in your communities, in your colleagues, fellow citizens, and in yourselves. And I applaud you for acting on that faith. We look forward to continuing to work with you.