U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Tracy A. Henke, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Probation And Justice Management Conference
Lake Tahoe, NV
May 17, 2005

Thank you very much for your kind introduction. I am delighted to join you today. It is a tremendous opportunity to serve President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales as the Deputy Associate Attorney General for the Department of Justice, as well as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.

And I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you about our work together on the issue of juvenile justice - and our shared commitment to creating a circle of giving that offers our young people a chance to lead productive and successful lives.

One of the greatest privileges of this position is meeting so many criminal justice professionals from all around the country who are out in the field, carrying out the mission of justice and safety.

I have great respect for the work you do:

  • Gaining trust of young people (disappointed by everyone)
  • Working with families, courts, and juveniles,
  • Holding them accountable.
  • Making sure that rehabilitation becomes a shared goal, and
  • Most importantly, recognizing the importance of being a role model and teacher.

Young people are the future of our country. But, in your work, that future can be a 14-year-old who saw his father abusing his mother and thinks that sex and aggression mean the same thing. It can be a 12-year-old who thinks gangs are more important than classrooms. It can be a 15-year-old who likes the way illegal drugs make her feel and doesn't think she'll ever become addicted.

I admire your commitment to changing that picture and the dedication that brings you here to ask: How can we build a foundation for these individuals? How can we create a strategy that empowers children to become responsible adults?

How can we take on the tragic reality of delinquency - young people who are growing up without the involvement of their parents, young people who think crime and jail are the only options, young people who have given up on their futures?

One thing is clear: The answer to our questions must come from not one of us, but all of us here today.

At the U.S. Department of Justice, our goal, and our collective challenge, is to address juvenile delinquency with a three-pronged strategy.

First, we need to think of delinquency as a complex problem that requires a comprehensive solution.

Second, our most powerful tool is prevention - and we must invest in programs that target problems before they start.

And third, we need to enlist leaders in our communities and empower them to take charge.

At the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency - the component of OJP that focuses on juvenile issues -- we started by looking at the causes behind delinquency, including:

  • Inconsistent strategies for dealing with offenses.
  • Lack of parental supervision.
  • Family alcohol, drug, or domestic abuse.
  • Inadequate attention to cultural issues and culturally appropriate materials in programs for juveniles.
  • Undiagnosed learning disabilities.
  • Poverty.
  • Mental health problems.
  • And other health problems.

The list goes on and on. Juvenile delinquency is a multifaceted issue. And we need to take a multidisciplinary approach, one that brings together courts and family services, schools and health care, law enforcement and local businesses.

In short, we wanted to design a comprehensive plan that would provide a foundation of health, security, and responsibility in the home, coordinate educational and justice concerns in the public service system, and engage the resources of providers and businesses in the community.

One major requirement of our juvenile justice programs is that they provide a continuum of services across agencies. This is not a time for separate entities to focus on separate issues. At OJP, our approach to juvenile justice has meant forming partnerships with other federal agencies.

We have programs that clearly show and demonstrate the importance of collaboration. I'd like to start out with one that is charting an innovative course in that area, the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. This program is a major part of President Bush's prisoner reentry initiative. The President has committed $300 million over four years to a comprehensive effort aimed at re-establishing ex-offenders in communities. Statistics show that more than 66 percent of offenders recidivate in the first three years.

Through the Reentry Initiative, the Department of Justice is collaborating with the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Veterans Affairs, and the Social Security Administration. We've worked with faith- and community- based groups to design and carry out adult and juvenile reentry strategies in 69 communities - covering 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands.

And each partner on the federal, state, and local level is involved in all three phases of the reentry program - from risk assessment and diagnostic screening during incarceration, to life skills training and substance abuse treatment in the months following release, to providing a network of social services and mentoring relationships for long-term success.

We have worked with some of you in this audience to provide technical assistance and training, because you are the ones who must work at all levels, enlisting the support of local and state partners and promoting understanding among all the different interests represented, from incarceration to drug treatment to housing.

As part of our technical assistance and training strategy for reentry, last year we hosted a series of regional training events on Intensive Aftercare, which focused on needs of juvenile offenders. You may have heard of our Intensive Aftercare Program, or IAP, which takes a highly structured and gradual approach to the transition from institutionalization.

When we work with people - juveniles and adults - we see that just about every program we support must be based on a comprehensive strategy. After all, whoever heard of a person in the criminal justice system with just one problem.

That's why innovative partnerships provide the foundation for our innovative youth and specialty courts. OJJDP and the National Highway Safety Administration annually provide $700,000 to the National Youth Court Program.

And we work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to coordinate our drug and mental health court programs.

So many of our programs that reflect the first part of our strategy, a comprehensive approach, also illustrate the second part, which is putting our energy into prevention and early intervention.

The Safe Schools, Healthy Students program is a wonderful collaboration among the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Education. It addresses the connection between mental illness and delinquency, an issue that I know concerns all of you. This initiative was developed in 1999, partly in response to the Columbine school shooting. The tragedy of school violence continues to haunt us [NOTE: members of Red Lake Indian tribe, where recent MN shooting took place, will be in audience].

Safe Schools Healthy Students brings together law enforcement and teachers, social workers and other community service providers to develop plans that promote healthy childhood development and prevent violence in schools. The program is conducted in schools throughout the country. It is working to identify and help students with emotional issues - and it is doing so much more, from bringing anger management into the classroom to teaching school children to choose healthy activities over drugs and alcohol.

Another area in which we are reaching kids early is with the Juvenile Sanctions programs, where OJP and the NCJFCJ are partnering to improve immediate and intermediate sanctioning options for young offenders. This program calls on a consistent decision-making approach and offers a continuum of sanctions for youngsters at the first signs of delinquent behavior. Our goal is to reduce the detention rate and, especially, to reach children in vulnerable populations who often don't receive the services they need - for instance, poor children with learning problems or mental health needs. OJJDP is supporting a Juvenile Sanctions Center that is developing guidelines, providing training and technical assistance to our demonstration sites, and gathering data to assess the effectiveness of these programs.

There's a third principle for addressing juvenile delinquency and developing an overall juvenile justice program - and that is engaging the community. Juvenile delinquency is a community problem. After all, when young people aren't in school or at home or on the sports fields, they're usually somewhere else in the community … on the streets or in the stores. People in the community are the first ones to pay for delinquency -- in higher crime rates and law enforcement costs or in business losses from shoplifting or vandalism.

In the past, you could count on a neighbor looking out the window or a shopkeeper who knew the family, ready to call parents or the school. Times may have changed - single parents, two working parents, not enough contact among neighbors for everyone in town to know on another. But, still, we must not lose sight of the unshakable reservoir of commitment and leadership in our communities.

When we designed our initiative on truancy we called on the creativity in communities.

Here are a few examples from our programs:

  • In Honolulu, Hawaii owners of a mom and pop store have stopped selling to young people during school hours, giving students one less alternative to the classroom and keeping the store from becoming a hangout.
  • In Jacksonville, Florida, UPS drivers carry cell phones to report wandering students.
  • In Roswell, New Mexico, the mayor issued a curfew during school hours in 1994. Since the curfew began, daytime burglaries and other crimes in the two high school neighborhoods have decreased.

As these stories show, when communities take charge, the possibilities are endless.

I'd also like to tell you about how our Tribal Justice Youth program is helping communities take charge. Through this program, JJ awards grants to tribal communities to develop and implement culturally sensitive delinquency prevention programs, alcohol and substance abuse prevention programs, interventions for court-involved youth, and improvements to the juvenile justice system.

The tribal youth program site in Taos, New Mexico, is addressing these issues. The Pueblo tribe there is working with community-based organizations and local leaders to offer art activities that help young people learn creative and positive self-expression, conduct hiking trips to historical sites that build pride in their heritage, and run a Youth Peace Journey Camp that brings in tribal members and native youth from around the world.

In one program, a local outfitter who has overcome substance abuse leads a rock-climbing trip. In another, the local group Youth Outreach for Victims' Assistance teaches teens about violence and victimization awareness.

Since engaging these programs, for the Taos Pueblo tribe:

  • The truancy rate has declined,
  • The high school drop out rate has declined,
  • The juvenile suicide and homicide rates have declined, and
  • Academic performance has increased.

The fact is that when we work together - when we call on the many talents in this room - when probation officers and teachers, police officers and parents, judges and community leaders - create a web of caring that fosters a sense of responsibility in the home, school, and community - we and do can turn lives around. Our greatest responsibility is to work together for our children and for our children's children.

I thank you for your good work, and for the contribution you are making for our future.

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