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

Second Chance Act Conference

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Mike [Thompson]. I'm so very pleased to be here. And I'm thrilled that the new Deputy Attorney General - my long-time friend, Jim Cole - could join us. I'll have the pleasure of introducing him in a few minutes.

     But first, I want to thank Jim Burch and his terrific staff for organizing today's meeting. And I'm going to single out Gary Dennis and Thurston Bryant, who lead BJA's reentry efforts. I know this issue is a passion for them, and I'm so grateful I can rely on their guidance and their expertise.

     Let me also thank the National Reentry Resource Center, especially Leah Kane and Le'Ann Duran for doing so much of the leg work to make this conference happen. Mike Thompson and his staff at the Council of State Governments Justice Center have been such wonderful partners in this effort, and I just want to acknowledge all the great work they do to advance reentry and - really - in leading us towards a smarter criminal justice system. Mike, I'm grateful for your leadership on so many fronts in criminal justice today.

     Jim and Gary tell me there are about 600 to 700 of you here today. Now that's remarkable considering we had just over 200 people at last year's conference. I think that's a clear sign that reentry is now becoming a critical component of public safety in this country. It's being embraced by people across the spectrum in criminal justice.

     Our work - your work - under the Second Chance Act has a great deal to do with that. And I'm so proud of the role the Office of Justice Programs, through BJA, has played in supporting your efforts.

     Reentry is an issue for which I've long had a passion. It was my priority as OJP's Assistant Attorney General in the 1990s. That's when the concept of reentry as we know it today was really first being conceptualized in the Department of Justice under then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Eric Holder was the Deputy Attorney General at the time. Jeremy Travis, who was Director of the National Institute of Justice, introduced the term "reentry" into our lexicon. Now it's the "coin of the realm."

     And it's wonderful to see that work continue today through the interagency efforts the Department is leading. Expanding reentry programming is now a Cabinet-level initiative of the Obama Administration. And OJP is heading up a parallel staff-level effort - being led by Amy Solomon and Marlene Beckman of my staff - to coordinate federal resources - from housing to health care to veterans issues, and beyond. We've got 17 different federal departments and agencies working together to improve outcomes in this area. This really is an exciting time.

     And I can't say enough about the leadership we have from this Administration, especially at the Department of Justice. Our Attorney General - and our Deputy Attorney General - are truly committed to making reentry part of the public safety landscape.

     Which brings me to our next speaker this morning.

     I've known Jim Cole for many years. I met him through the American Bar Association back in the 80s when he was active in its White Collar Crime Committee, and I was director of the ABA's Criminal Justice Section.

     That was where I got to first see the incredible breadth of his knowledge about the criminal justice system. I remember being so impressed by his intellectual curiosity and his passion for the issues. I developed a deep respect and admiration for him then and also, I have to say, spotted his excellent sense of humor! And when I learned from Eric Holder that Jim Cole would be coming to DOJ as Deputy Attorney General, I was excited - because I knew the Department would have someone who knew and cared so much about "our" issues.

     He's no stranger to the Department. Beginning back in 1979, he served in DOJ for 13 years, first as a trial attorney in the Criminal Division, then later as Deputy Chief of the Division's Public Integrity Section.

     Jim Cole is a man whose range of knowledge and experience is broad - not just prosecution from his years at Justice, but interests in areas like juvenile justice and public defense from his work with the ABA. So anyone who thinks of Jim Cole as simply a typical Washington white collar crime lawyer would be making a huge mistake.

     And before Jim came on board, we had a chance to talk and he told me that prisoner reentry was one of his interests. His presence here today certainly confirms that. In fact, this is his first speaking engagement as Deputy at an event hosted by OJP - and, Jim, I hope there will be many more to come.

     It's a pleasure now to introduce the Deputy Attorney General, James M. Cole.

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