THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
MID-ATLANTIC SEXUAL ASSAULT CONFERENCE
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2003
KING OF PRUSSIA, PENNSYLVANIA
I’m delighted to be here and to have this opportunity to thank all of you for the work you do every day to assist the victims of sexual assault, and to help generate awareness of the terrible toll this crime takes – physically, emotionally, and financially – on its victims and their families.
As you know, sexual assault is still an issue that many people just don’t want to talk about—it’s too horrifying, too personal, too embarrassing to discuss. But, as this group knows all too well, the crime is real. The victims are real. And in order to create an environment where sexual assault victims are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, we must all do whatever we can to bring their plight to the forefront.
This issue has long been both a professional and a personal interest of mine. As Chief Counsel to the prosecuting attorney in Marion County, Indiana, I supervised the office sex offense unit and tried both adult and child sexual assault cases myself. As part of our efforts, we sought to develop more humane approaches – both within the police department and at area hospitals – for interviewing and gathering evidence from rape victims.
At that time, some police officers were still asking rape victims questions such as “Did you enjoy it?” And the belief was widespread among officers that many victims, through their clothing or actions, brought the rape on themselves. I do firmly believe that, thankfully, our police departments have come a long way since those dark days. Today, most police officers treat rape victims with sensitivity and fairness.
As Chief Counsel, I also supervised the victim assistance efforts of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. We sought to assist those who had been victimized, and to prevent further victimization, as victims’ cases wound their way through the often insensitive criminal justice system. And I served for several years on the advisory boards of not for profit organizations in Indianapolis that provide services to victims of sexual assault and child abuse.
But while my work on behalf of these victims was tremendously satisfying, one of my greatest frustrations as a prosecutor was that the whole theory of prosecution is reactive. We come along after a person has already been victimized, after the genie is out of the bottle, after the damage is already done.
We’re left to pick up the pieces. Reconstructing the facts of the case after the fact, winning at trial, and sending an offender to prison where – at least for the time being – he’ll no longer be a threat to the community – is somewhat rewarding, and provides some justice and sense of closure for the victim.
But it’s also something of a Pyrrhic victory. The harm has already been done. Though she may make a brave effort to pull her life back together and go on, the typical victim will never be the same. She’ll never be completely whole. She’ll never be able to erase from her memory the terrible trauma of the attack. She’ll never be completely free from the fear that it might happen again.
Traditionally, our whole justice system has been built on the principles of retribution and reaction. We wait until someone has been irretrievably harmed, and we then do our best to redress the harm that has already occurred. But I believe that it’s time we turned tradition on its ear. Our justice system needs to focus not only on retribution and reaction, but also on prevention. Instead of working to address crime only after it has occurred, we need to focus more on crime prevention.
This has become a central focus for the Department of Justice. The day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush charged Attorney General Ashcroft with a mission that has become our top priority. He told the Attorney General, “I want you to make sure this never happens again to our people.”
In response, the Attorney General ordered a sea change in the Justice Department’s mission, to one of prevention. And while the President’s charge was originally intended specifically for the fight against terrorism, I believe that our primary mission encompasses prevention on other levels, as well.
The justice system’s core focus must be to protect people from predators and to prevent victimization whenever we can. Then, if the worst happens and a crime is committed, we must follow through with our traditional responsibilities of pursuing the wrongdoer with vigor while, at the same time, providing support and services for the victim. So criminal justice policymakers must rethink our mission, and the strategies we adopt to achieve that mission, to focus more on preventing crime and victimization.
Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to achieve this goal. As you all know, there is incredible pressure on state legislatures throughout the country, in these days of economic difficulty and shrinking state budgets, to save money wherever they can. A common target for state budget cutters is corrections, which is one of the most expensive items in the budget of most states.
So the first thing many budget cutters look at is the early release of offenders to save the costs of housing and feeding state prisoners. But, in many cases, legislators aren’t thinking strategically. They set up early release systems without concentrating on
the risk factors associated with letting these offenders loose in our communities and without arranging for sufficient post-release supervision.
Our Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that, each year, more than 600,000 offenders are released from prison and return to our communities. 67 percent of these offenders commit another crime within three years of their release. Ninety percent reoffend within 5 years. Ninety percent – that translates into a lot of innocent victims! And we know that, when we look at recidivism rates for sex offenders, while the numbers are lower, they are still unacceptably high. And, horrifyingly, over 50 percent of their victims are children – over half of those are under age 12.
We must be much more strategic in making decisions about releasing dangerous predators back into our communities. Rather than looking just at the costs associated with caring for these offenders in our correctional facilities, we need to look at the broader picture. We must assess the relative risk these offenders pose and the tremendous costs of crime to victims, to our criminal justice system, and to our society. These factors should be weighed, as well, when we consider releasing offenders before they serve their full sentences.
And let me just say a word about granting early release to violent offenders who are deemed “model prisoners.” Ted Bundy was a model prisoner, but I don’t think anyone can make the case that he would have been a good release risk.
Decisions about early release for offenders should be based on solid, scientific evidence about who is most likely to endanger the public when released. At the same time, however, we must face the fact that, at some point, most offenders will be released from prison and return to our communities. Sex offenders, for example, on average, serve less than four years.
To ensure these offenders receive appropriate supervision following incarceration, the Office of Justice Programs has developed a comprehensive offender “re-entry” initiative that seeks to re-integrate violent offenders into society, while preventing them from committing another crime.
Make no mistake: our objective is not to “coddle” criminals. The goal is to protect the public and prevent crime by helping these offenders become law-abiding and productive members of the community.
And we’re already seeing some positive results. Fort Wayne, Indiana, which began its program without federal funding a few years ago, has developed a national reentry model whose efforts have already made an impact. During the program’s first 22 months, only 12.5 percent of the 200 violent offenders who came through the program committed another offense, compared to a 67 percent recidivism rate before the program.
This dramatic drop in reoffending has paid off in two ways. The community has been saved the costs associated with investigating and prosecuting these new offenses, and – the real payoff – its citizens are safer. Fewer crimes mean fewer victims.
We’ve developed a similar initiative that we hope will help to prevent recidivism by sex offenders. I hope some of you were able to attend the breakout session presented by staff from the Center for Sex Offender Management. For the past several years, the Office of Justice Programs has been working with CSOM to help communities develop comprehensive sex offender management strategies.
We’ve provided more than $10 million to communities throughout the country to support this effort. With these funds, communities have established multi-disciplinary teams that include law enforcement, probation and parole officers, court personnel, treatment providers, and victim advocates. These teams are working to develop strategies to monitor and treat sex offenders through a comprehensive, systemic approach. Again, the goal is prevention, by providing close supervision and effective treatment to keep sex offenders from committing additional crimes and creating additional victims.
I want to talk briefly about another major prevention effort under way at the Department of Justice – and that is the President’s DNA initiative. Sarah Hart, the Director of our National Institute of Justice, will tell you more about this effort tomorrow. Many of you may know Sarah, who is a former Philadelphia prosecutor, and who has worked with PCAR as a volunteer. Sarah is a firm believer, as am I, in the tremendous potential of DNA evidence to solve crimes and bring closure to victims -- as well as to prevent future victimization by swiftly bringing the offenders to justice.
Right now, however, as you may know, hundreds of thousands of rape kits and other DNA samples from crimes await analysis in evidence storage lockers and forensic laboratories across the country. That translates into hundreds of thousands of victims who are still waiting for justice -- hundreds of thousands of victims who are still looking over their shoulders, afraid their attackers will return; and unknown numbers of potential victims of attackers who are still on the loose.
This Administration believes that better use of DNA evidence holds tremendous potential for increasing our capacity to solve crimes quickly, identify and convict the guilty, and protect the innocent. But most of all, we believe that better use of DNA will help prevent crimes by getting offenders off the streets and into prison where they belong.
This is particularly true in rape cases. We know that most rapists are serial offenders. If we can identify them early, and put them away, we can save countless victims the trauma of rape, and in some cases, a violent death.
Some of you may be familiar with the case of Kellie Greene, a rape survivor who has become a strong and articulate advocate for DNA testing. Kellie waited more than three years before the DNA evidence in her case was analyzed and matched with an offender who was, by that time, serving a 25-year sentence for beating and raping another woman. That other rape had occurred just weeks before his assault on Kellie. Had the rapist in the earlier attack been identified sooner, he might have been in jail, and Kellie might have been spared the terrible trauma of sexual assault altogether.
As Sarah will tell you tomorrow, President Bush, in March of this year, launched a 5-year, $1 billion Presidential DNA initiative, to improve our society’s capacity to solve crimes through the use of DNA, on all fronts. In his 2004 budget request, the President has asked for over $200 million, as the first installment on the 5-year plan. Unfortunately, while the House appropriators have recommended full funding of the initiative, the Senate appropriators, at this point, have not proposed to fund it at all.
Over the next several weeks, a House/Senate conference committee will work to iron out differences in the two bills, and we’re hopeful that the President’s initiative will be funded in full in the final appropriations bill. It’s a critical component of our effort to prevent crime, reduce the number of crime victims, and make our communities safer.
To reach these goals, we must be willing to rethink our mission, and the strategic goals we have designed to achieve it. Our nation’s policymakers must analyze the success of the approaches we take toward reaching that end. This is a critical contribution of OJP’s National Institute of Justice, and we must encourage more research so that we know what works and where we should be investing scarce public dollars.
We also must be willing to change direction if we find that what we’re doing doesn’t work, or that another approach might work better, to achieve the mission of protecting women from violence. I know that Diane Stuart, Director of our Office on Violence Against Women, from whom you heard yesterday, is committed to this goal, as well.
At the Office of Justice Programs, we will continue working as partners with you in the fight against sexual violence. We encourage you to tell us in what other ways we can assist you in accomplishing your mission to protect women and children from sexual assault and other crime, and to assist those who have been victimized.
Thank you for inviting me to address you at this very important conference. And thank you for everything you do, every day, to protect women and children from sexual violence.