Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National District Attorneys Association Capital Conference
January 30, 2007
Thank you, Mat. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I want to thank the NDAA for inviting me to speak. Our nation’s prosecutors are among our closest partners at the Office of Justice Programs, and I’m proud of the work that we’ve done with the NDAA to support their work.
Together, we have provided training, supported research, identified best practices, and developed information resources to help prosecutors perform their jobs more effectively. It’s fair to say that our work together has made the criminal and juvenile justice systems of our country stronger and more responsive to the issues they face.
Through the National Advocacy Center, the NDAA has trained thousands of local prosecutors. The Department of Justice has been proud to support the
Center, and we applaud the NDAA for its continued good work on behalf of state and local prosecutors across the country.
I especially appreciate the chance to thank all of you – the men and women who serve as district attorneys, commonwealth attorneys, state attorneys, county attorneys, solicitors, and district attorneys general. You are the linchpins of our criminal justice system. We are grateful for your dedicated service to your communities and to your fellow citizens.
Our work with and support of prosecutors extends into almost every area of criminal justice, but I’d like to spend my time today talking about just a few of the issues that I see as especially timely and important.
The first of these is our effort to combat the online exploitation of children. This is an issue I know the NDAA is very concerned about. And I want to thank Mat and Tom Charron for their leadership in this area, particularly through the Keep PACE Program.
I know you’re all familiar with the Attorney General’s initiative, Project Safe Childhood. When he spoke to you back in July, Attorney General Gonzales gave a good overview of the program. And I know that Mat, Tom, and Jim Fox met with the Attorney General a few months ago to discuss some ideas.
Project Safe Childhood does two basic things: It supports prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they investigate cybercrimes against children. And it provides resources to educate parents and citizens on Internet safety.
The foundation of Project Safe Childhood is the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program. The ICAC program is a network of 46 state and locally led task forces set up in regions throughout the country. These task forces are supported by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and their purpose is to assist in investigations, provide forensic support, and help prosecute cases. They also offer training and technical assistance, aid victims, and provide community education.
Since the inception of the ICAC Task Force Program in 1998, thousands of arrests have been made in cases ranging from small, local operations to worldwide networks involving millions of traded images. Last year alone, ICAC task forces made more than 1,600 arrests.
One of those arrests came in March, when an investigation by the San Diego ICAC Task Force led authorities to the convalescent center of a children’s hospital.
Our partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipped off investigators by identifying a respiratory therapist who had been distributing child pornography. When they got to his computer, they found tens of thousands of still and video images. The images showed the suspect having sexual relations with children, many of them very young. When he was asked how many children he had molested, his chilling response was, “How many snowflakes are there out there?”
As many of you know, this case is just a snapshot of what can happen in almost any child pornography investigation.
So often, what prompts an investigation is only the tip of the iceberg. A few pornographic pictures downloaded by a single individual turn into thousands of images traded across the country. And often, child pornographers turn out to be vicious sexual predators. The illicit commerce of pornographers can be just the first step in an accelerated march toward sexual violence.
Sadly, these criminals are not just going to go away. In fact, if anything, they’re getting bolder:
- A report recently released by our Office of Juvenile Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that one child in every seven receives a sexual solicitation or approach online. Five years ago, that ratio was one in five, which is progress. And I think we can attribute that progress to better education and awareness.
- Unfortunately, though, the study also found that significantly more young Internet users are exposed to unwanted sexual material: Thirty-three percent of 10- to 17-year-olds, compared to 25 percent, five years ago.
- A separate study of child pornographers shows that most pornographers have images of prepubescent children and of graphic depictions of sexual activity.
- And one in five has images of sexual violence to children.
We’re not talking about harmless expressions of poor taste. These are portraits of shocking crimes against the youngest members of our society.
We’re working with prosecutors and law enforcement officials to hone our response to these crimes. As you know, Attorney General Gonzales has directed every U.S. Attorney to work with prosecutors and investigators in their districts to create strategic plans for addressing the problem.
He also aggressively pursued the establishment of the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office, known by its much less unwieldy acronym – the SMART Office. The SMART Office is authorized by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which President Bush signed into law last year.
The office will be responsible for administering the provisions of the new law, specifically with regard to the registration of sex offenders. The law also gives statutory authority to our efforts under Project Safe Childhood. President Bush recently appointed Laura Rogers to be the Department’s first SMART Office coordinator.
And we continue to provide resources to help in the investigation and prosecution of Internet-based crimes. Two weeks ago, we released two new guides for prosecutors and law enforcement officials. One focuses on presenting digital evidence in the courtroom, and the other is a guide for improving investigations involving the Internet and computer networks.
These are just a few of the ways we are working with and in support of prosecutors to address online child exploitation. As he told you in July, “We need District Attorneys to be a central voice, and a key partner, in this effort.”
We’d be very interested in any ideas you might have to enhance both the enforcement and the public education components of Project Safe Childhood.
A second issue is the joint problem of guns and gangs.
NDAA has been one of our key partners in Project Safe Neighborhoods, which is a cornerstone of the Administration’s crime-fighting efforts. We’ve been very successful with PSN. Federal firearms prosecutions are up significantly. A vast majority of defendants who are charged have been convicted and sentenced. And those who are convicted are doing serious time.
This success is due, not just to more vigorous federal efforts, but to greater cooperation between prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and others at all levels.
We’re building on that success in our efforts to combat gangs. Last year, as part of PSN, OJP provided almost 30 million dollars in grants and training and technical assistance to fight gang violence in jurisdictions across the country.
These programs are coordinated and led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, but they are carried out in full partnership with state and local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, as well as community-based organizations.
At the Attorney General’s behest, every U.S. Attorney has designated an anti-gang coordinator and every federal district has submitted a plan to fight gang violence. The Department is also implementing the Attorney General’s anti-gang initiative, which supports comprehensive efforts to curb gang activity in six cities.
At OJP, we continue to support several training programs under PSN. The training topics range far and wide – from gun tracing and interdiction, to firearm statutes and search and seizure laws, to crime scene and evidence management. NDAA’s American Prosecutors Research Institute administers much of the training through the Gun Violence Prosecution Program and the Drug Prosecution and Prevention Program, both of which are part of PSN. And I would add that the drug prosecution program now includes a piece on gang-related prosecutions.
We also provide free training to agencies that commit to teaching the Gang Resistance Education And Training, or GREAT, Program. GREAT, as you know, uses criminal justice practitioners to teach young people about the consequences of gang involvement. NDAA has been actively involved in that program.
Hand in hand with our efforts to fight guns and gangs is a strategy to stem the tide of drugs, particularly methamphetamine.
OJP is helping to support training and technical assistance for criminal justice practitioners. NDAA’s Drug Prosecution and Prevention Program is working to educate and train prosecutors on the problems associated with meth. NDAA was also one of our partners in coordinating National Meth Awareness Day in November.
We’re particularly concerned about the impact of meth on young people. Through our Office for Victims of Crime, we’ve funded an initiative to create a National Drug Endangered Children Resource Center. The resource center will provide critical information to local, tribal, state, and federal agencies, on how to help children harmed by drug abuse, including meth.
We also provide training and technical assistance for law enforcement to fight meth, and we provide information resources that discuss meth trends and best practices to combat the problem.
We also continue to devote our resources to improving the use of DNA and DNA technology.
Under the President’s DNA Initiative, OJP has awarded more than $300 million to states and localities to enhance the use of DNA. Those funds have gone to help eliminate DNA backlogs, expand crime lab capacity, conduct research, test convicted offenders, identify missing persons, and train justice system practitioners, including prosecutors.
They have also gone toward helping to solve cold cases. Last September, we awarded more than 14 million dollars to 38 state and local agencies to help them solve cold cases.
Also last year, we held a series of regional cold case trainings. These sessions brought together prosecutors, investigators, coroners, medical examiners, and forensic specialists to discuss methods for solving cold cases.
We’re also working to expand to use of DNA to property crimes like burglary and auto theft. We know that the recidivism rate for these offenders is very high, and that they often go on to commit violent crimes.
Our National Institute of Justice has funded several pilot projects to test the effectivness of collecting DNA from these crimes. And I want to acknowledge the exceptional work being done by Mitch Morrissey and the Denver District Attorney’s Office. Working with my office and NIJ, Mitch and his staff are now using DNA to prosecute burglary cases. I encourage all of you to take a look at how his office is helping to advance this important benefit of DNA.
These are some of the major areas of our work with prosecutors. We have, of course, many other junction points. We’ll continue to work with the NDAA to see that our resources support prosecutors in all of these areas.
The Supreme Court of my home state, Mississippi, said in a decision about 20 years ago, quote, “A fearless and earnest prosecuting attorney is a bulwark to the peace, safety, and happiness of the people.” End quote. Along with our law enforcement officers, our prosecutors represent a wall between a secure and prosperous society and the outlands of fear and lawlessness.
I commend each of you for your commitment to upholding the rule of law and for your hard work in helping our country realize the goal of peaceful and safe communities.