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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National District Attorneys Association
2011 Capital Conference

Monday, February 7, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Jim. It's great to be here. And I'm so glad the weather cooperated this year. I was supposed to be at your conference last year, but I was shut out - like most of D.C. - by the blizzards of 2010!

     It's wonderful to be back. I actually have a long history of working with NDAA, going back a good quarter-century. And I've really valued my relationship with your organization. You've all played such a critical leadership role in improving criminal justice in this country.

     And I've had great experiences working with NDAA over the years - Newman Flanagan during his long tenure as your Executive Director; he was truly one of a kind! And I've been delighted since early 2009 to work with Scott Burns - whom I've known for years. I have to say that everywhere I go, he seems to be there - and I mean that in a good way, Scott. I know NDAA is well served by his leadership - as you are by your president, Jim Reams. And Jim, I'm really looking forward to continuing to work with you.

     I think this is a very propitious time for OJP's and the Department's partnership with NDAA - and with local prosecutors, generally. As you well know, we have a veteran prosecutor as Attorney General - someone who really understands the issues - from both the local practitioner level and the federal policymaking level.

     He and I both believe strongly that, in order for the Department of Justice to be effective in supporting prosecutors in the field, we have to make our relationship a true partnership. Now, I know it's easy to say those words, but we mean to listen to you - we want to hear the challenges you're facing, understand the issues you deal with every day. This is why Eric Holder brought back the Executive Working Group (EWG) - which I know is so important to NDAA, a group in which both I and my Principal Deputy, Mary Lou Leary, along with Jim and Scott, have personally participated.

     As Jim mentioned, I served as Assistant Attorney General at OJP for seven years under Janet Reno, and I hadn't planned to come back. But the Attorney General - who can be awfully persuasive - convinced me that there was important work to be done in OJP - namely, reinvigorating our relationships with stakeholders in the field. That was one of the things I valued most during my first tenure at OJP - the partnerships with groups like NDAA - and I really wanted to do everything I could to re-establish those connections.

     So one thing I've done in the two years I've been back in government is hold listening sessions to hear from the field about your issues and concerns. Scott has participated in those. I like these to be real brainstorming sessions. We're making a full-fledged effort to incorporate what we hear from the field into our programs - especially what we hear about evidence-based approaches to crime.

     This has been another top priority of the Attorney General's and mine - ensuring we're putting science and research into our criminal justice policies and programs. I think it's high time we start making sure our investments in public safety are backed by evidence. I don't think we can afford to do otherwise - especially in this economy.

     And let me just say, we know these are challenging times for you. We know counties and localities have had to make hard decisions that affect your work. We in the federal government are not immune, either. We're facing similar challenges, and those tough choices are reflected in the President's budget request for 2011 and will be reflected in his request for 2012, which will be announced next Monday.

     But we're working with the resources we have to give you the tools you need. As you know, we're currently operating under a Continuing Resolution that runs until March 4th, but we're still hopeful Congress will enact an appropriations for the current year that supports the Administration's priorities.

     I want to talk to you today about some of the areas in which we're working to support prosecutors. I'll begin with mortgage fraud. I know this has been a big issue for prosecutors - and one you've raised with the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perrelli, at the EWG.

     The Department of Justice is leading an interagency task force on financial fraud, a chief objective of which is to address mortgage fraud. OJP plays a significant role in this effort. Over the last two years, our Bureau of Justice Assistance - BJA - has awarded almost $18.5 million to state and local prosecutors' offices to support mortgage fraud investigation and prosecution. And we awarded funding to NDAA last year to provide training and technical assistance on fighting these crimes.

     Another area we're addressing - and this is a major priority of the Obama Administration - is the enforcement of intellectual property crimes. In 2009, the President appointed an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator to carry out the Administration's IP strategy. For our part, OJP has awarded some $4 million to states and localities to support prevention, investigation, and prosecution activities. We see state and local prosecutors as key allies in this enforcement effort.

     BJA has also released an IP solicitation to support state and local enforcement and outreach. That's open until February 10th, and I encourage you to visit the BJA Web site to find out more about this available funding - although obviously the deadline is fast approaching!

     Another area of strong mutual concern is the victimization and exploitation of children. I know this has been a long-standing issue for NDAA, going back to the creation of the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse 25 years ago. And OJP has been a supporter of the Center - last year, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded almost $2 million to continue the training and other assistance you provide through the Center. I truly commend your leadership in this area.

     Last year, the Attorney General launched his Defending Childhood Initiative. OJP plays a central role in this initiative. We're funding demonstration projects to support evidence-based interventions, and we're also supporting research to improve our understanding of the dynamics behind exposure to violence and what interventions work. And we're also continuing our efforts through the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program, which I know Jim has been closely involved with - and we continue to support the work NDAA is doing to provide training in this area.

     We also want to work closely with you to figure out how we can be smarter about addressing broader system issues. I'm a firm believer that the components of the criminal justice system can only live up to their potential when they see themselves as problem-solvers.

     Certainly, as you undoubtedly know, a growing body of evidence from research shows that problem-solving approaches like drug courts can be very effective in reducing recidivism and future drug use.

     I've visited more than a dozen drug courts around the country, and I know - both from the research studies and from observation - that these programs work in changing offender behavior. They're also woefully underutilized, which is unfortunate, because research also shows they can significantly reduce costs. I think prosecutors can play a huge role here in helping policymakers understand the benefits of drug courts and other problem-solving alternatives.

     Both the evidence and the economy require that we explore these approaches, and that we take a strategic look at how we deal with defendants as they come into the system. In fact, we're in the process of planning a pre-trial justice forum that we hope to hold this spring. This will be an opportunity to look at best practices and engage in a discussion of how to maximize diversion and other pre-trial options in appropriate cases - and help reduce prosecutor caseloads into the bargain. NDAA will be on the invitation list, and I look forward to a good discussion.

     Working smarter also means remaining focused on the greater goals of the justice system - fairness and equal treatment among them. The Department of Justice has been working through its Access to Justice Initiative to help make sure indigent defendants are fairly and responsibly represented in the courtroom. OJP is playing a key role in this effort - and NDAA has been a strong partner. I understand you're also working to try to bring parity in training for prosecutors and defenders. This is a laudable goal, and I want to applaud your efforts here.

     Another area in which prosecutors can - and, I think, should - exercise their leadership is in offender reentry. And I appreciate the strong and thoughtful position NDAA has taken on this issue.

     There's just no question that effective reentry is key to public safety. That's why prosecutors need to be part of this process, in fact I would say leaders in this process - to have input into reentry plans and to be sure that reentry programs are designed with the goals of crime prevention and community safety. As the NDAA policy position says, "prosecutors cannot risk non-involvement with this issue." I agree.

     OJP and the Department are fully engaged on reentry. We provided $100 million last year to support reentry programs under the Second Chance Act. Last month, the Attorney General convened the Cabinet-level Federal Interagency Reentry Council to coordinate reentry resources across the federal government. OJP is leading a parallel interagency staff-level effort. And we're making other tools available, like a National Reentry Resource Center and a Toolkit for Elected Officials on jail reentry, which we recently published - and we have a flyer here that describes it.

     Finally, let me switch gears and talk about another big mutual priority - and that's the role of forensic science in our courtrooms.

     I know the forensics report from the National Academy of Sciences two years ago has been a topic of concern for prosecutors across the country, and I'm very pleased to see that NDAA has taken the initiative to help educate the public about some of its findings.

     Our National Institute of Justice is part of a White House-led effort under way to address concerns raised in the NAS report and to determine how to best respond to its recommendations. This is something the Obama Administration is taking very seriously. NIJ has also established a separate Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences dedicated to improving the use of forensic evidence.

     We're also moving ahead with specific efforts to advance the use of forensics, which, frankly, NIJ has been doing for a long time. Since 2009, we've awarded more than $15 million under a program to improve the reliability of the forensic science disciplines.

     Clearly, this is an era of challenges in the justice field. But we have leadership at the Department of Justice that I hope understands and certainly values the work that you do on a daily basis. We appreciate hearing the lessons that your work in the field holds for us at the federal level. So thank you so much for everything you do, for your leadership, and for having me here today.

     I'm happy to answer questions and hear your comments.

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