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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

OJP Summer Intern Event

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Mukta [Sain]. I'm delighted to be here - and I'm thrilled to welcome all of you to OJP.

     I've heard positively glowing reports from Mukta and Angela about what an impressive group of interns this is. Our intern coordinators are practically salivating, they're so excited. And that, of course, is great news to those of us in leadership because our intern program is so important to the work we do here in OJP.

     You've picked the best intern gig in all of Washington - and that's my completely unbiased opinion. You're going to have the opportunity to work on some really fascinating issues, and you're going to have the chance to contribute to some critical work being done in criminal and juvenile justice.

     Let me tell you a little about myself and then I'll talk a little about OJP.

     As Mukta mentioned, I'm the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of OJP, so I work closely with our Assistant Attorney General, Laurie Robinson, to lead OJP and coordinate our work with rest of the Department of Justice.

     I tell people I've had what you might call an "on again, off again" relationship with the Justice Department. I held several posts under President Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno, including acting head of OJP. I was also a federal prosecutor - I served as an Assistant United States Attorney under Eric Holder when he was the U.S. Attorney here in D.C., and I served for a time as U.S. Attorney myself. I can honestly say that every one of my jobs at DOJ has been a wonderful experience.

     Going back a few years, my career in public service began at a Head Start program in Harlem after graduate school. That job provided me a clear glimpse of what it's like to live in a low-income community with few services. It really brought home to me the needs that so many families - and children - are facing.

     I later became a middle school English teacher, and while working with the Teacher's Union, I developed an interest in the law. As a law student at Northeastern, I was able to combine my interest in the law with my growing passion for social justice.

     Along the way, I've worked as a District Attorney in Massachusetts and, as I said, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney. I felt that all of those jobs really gave me the chance to give back to the community in a unique way - and they showed me that an effective justice system is not just important for maintaining law and order but for improving the quality of life, especially for those who are disadvantaged.

     From my early days in the field, I've always had a particular interest in the issues faced by crime victims. I saw, as a prosecutor, how much the decisions made by prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and others in the system impact the lives of victims. I saw that when a prosecutor fails to communicate with a sexual assault victim, that can add to a sense of the victim's betrayal. Or when a judge, for no defensible reason, refuses to allow a victim to make a statement in court, that can add to the victim's frustration and anger. These things can cause victims to lose faith, and they weaken the credibility of the system.

     I decided that helping victims regain their dignity and their faith in the system is in many ways more important than the outcome of cases or the punishment of offenders. Logically, my one recent position outside the Justice Department was as the Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving victims' rights and services.

     Through my work there - and through all the jobs I've held over the years - I've seen that the work that goes on in criminal justice has a tremendous impact on people's lives. And that work is what OJP exists to support.

     Our mission at OJP is to enhance public safety and strengthen our criminal and juvenile justice systems. This is a broad mandate, and so it involves many different activities - from funding and training for local law enforcement agencies, to youth and gang violence prevention, to victim services, to crime research and statistics, and beyond.

     One of our major focuses here - and I'm sure you'll hear about this from John, as well - is on strengthening the role that science and research play in criminal and juvenile justice. One of Laurie's top priorities is to expand our base of knowledge about what works in reducing crime and to help criminal justice practitioners - police, sheriffs, prosecutors, judges - use that knowledge in their own jurisdictions.

     Let me give you just a couple of examples. Some of you may have heard the term "Hot Spots Policing." This is the concept that crime tends to be concentrated in very specific - and often very small - areas. John's office, NIJ, has supported very important research in this area, and law enforcement agencies are using this information to change the way they police communities. Instead of focusing on large areas like entire neighborhoods, they're targeting their resources to small places like a city block or even a single apartment building. This is a much more effective approach to fighting crime.

     On the other hand, there are programs that don't work. Many of you are probably familiar with "Scared Straight," which is a get-tough approach to youth crime where hardened adult criminals confront young offenders to try to scare them away from a life of crime. This has been a very popular program, and it still has champions. The problem is, it doesn't work. Research shows that not only is it ineffective, but, in some cases, it actually leads to increases in offending.

     So we're trying to improve our collective knowledge about what works - and what doesn't work - so professionals can make smarter policy and program decisions.

     Laurie launched an initiative called the Evidence Integration Initiative, which we call E2I, for short. This is an OJP-wide program - and it has the full support of the Attorney General. Its goals are to improve both the quantity and quality of information - or evidence - that we generate, and to get that information out to the field in a way in which it can be used. This means translating the research into language that busy practitioners and policymakers can understand and put into play. You'll be hearing more about this effort during your time here, and no doubt many of you will be involved with it, in some way.

     Another effort that cuts across all our bureaus and offices is our work with tribal communities. Many tribal communities have disproportionately high rates of crime, and they are, in many cases, woefully under-resourced. One study supported by NIJ a few years ago showed that a typical police department in Indian country serves a population of about 10,000 people in an area about the size of Delaware. Yet, on average, it has only three officers.

     OJP has a rich history of supporting tribes through programs that protect Indian children and youth, strengthen tribal justice systems, build tribal jails, and serve Native victims. Both the President and the Attorney General have emphasized the federal government's responsibility to help tribes carry out their public safety activities. Part of that involves making it easier for tribes to access federal funding. This is something we've been doing through a series of government-to-government consultations and workshops to get the word out about our resources. We also streamlined our grant programs so that tribes don't have to apply over and over again for different grants - basically, they can submit one application for all our programs.

     I'm sure a number of you will be involved in helping us continue our outreach to tribes. This is critical work, and it's one of our major responsibilities at OJP.

     I could go on at great length about many of the other important efforts under way here in OJP. For example, we're the lead agency in an Administration-wide effort to improve the way prisoners are released into their communities. This is one of the most challenging - and interesting - areas of public safety - more than 700,000 people come out of prison every year. The Attorney General chairs a Federal Interagency Reentry Council, and OJP is providing the staffing support.

     Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is the lead in the Attorney General's Defending Childhood Initiative. This is an effort designed to reduce children's exposure to violence. We know through research that more than 60 percent of children are exposed to violence, either directly as victims or indirectly as witnesses. To goal of Defending Childhood is to find ways to reduce the incidence of children's exposure to violence and mitigate the damaging effects it has on kids.

     And there are many other initiatives that you'll learn about during your time here. There are a lot of really interesting and exciting things going on, and you'll have the chance to be in the thick of it all.

     OJP is a terrific place to work. And you have a leader in Laurie Robinson who values her staff and is personally committed to making your experience in OJP as rich and rewarding as possible.

     So, congratulations on being selected as OJP interns, and I look forward to working with you over the next few months.


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