Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Office for Victims of Crime
Discretionary Grantees Meeting
March 4, 2009
Thank you, Joye. It's great to be here.
I see a lot of familiar faces. It's wonderful to see so many of the "old buffaloes" continuing your work with victims. I guess I'm one of those old buffaloes. My work with victims goes back to the 70s, when I helped set up the American Bar Association's Committee on Crime Victims. I was also actively involved in pushing for crime victim legislation in the 80s, including the Victims of Crime Act - which, by the way, is 25 years old this year.
So, it's good to be back among old friends.
As Joye mentioned, I spent seven years as Assistant Attorney General of OJP under Janet Reno. A lot of good things happened in the 90s, including the signing of the Crime Bill and a huge growth in resources within OJP. But one of the things I was always proudest of was the good work that we were supporting in the victims' field - from things like victim assistance academies, to state-of-the-art services for sexual assault victims, to programs that helped child abuse victims in Indian country. I felt that our work was really making an impact.
We were fortunate to have extremely competent people working in our Office for Victims of Crime then, as we do now. Joye is one of those people whose roots go back to the Reno years. I'm very pleased that she's now serving as OVC's Acting Director. She was selected because the transition team, of which I was a part, had the utmost confidence in her abilities. We knew she was the right person for the job. She has the knowledge, the experience, and the commitment that were needed, and I want to thank her for leading OVC during this time.
Of course, at the heart of it all was the commitment of our partners in the field - the local victim assistance programs, the state compensation programs, the national groups, and the organizations that received discretionary grant money from OVC. It was their work - your work - that really made the difference, and that difference was felt all the way at the top.
And all of you know that Eric Holder was there during the Clinton years, first as U.S. Attorney here in D.C. and then later as Deputy Attorney General. Like Attorney General Reno, he had headed a large prosecution office, and like Janet Reno, Eric Holder understands in his heart the importance of victim services to the integrity of our criminal justice system. One of his signature issues during those years was improving our understanding of - and response to - children exposed to violence. He was very committed to making sure that young people who lived in violent settings, or who witnessed violence, were treated as victims and given appropriate services. And he remains committed to meeting the needs of this vulnerable population.
He and I have had many conversations in recent months about how we can bolster our criminal justice system, and I can tell you that he believes very strongly that the needs of crime victims should be central to the way our justice system operates. I can also tell you that he values tremendously the work that all of you do.
Last week, he came to OJP to meet the employees and talk about his priorities. In fact, it was the first component of any in the Justice Department that he visited. He made it clear that one of top his priorities was ensuring that victim services be available to underserved populations, particularly those victims in the inner city whose socio-economic status places them at high risk. He made the comment that people here in D.C. should be able to sit on their own front porches without fear of dodging a bullet.
With this kind of commitment, based on his years of working closely with victim advocates and service providers, you can be sure that the needs and rights of crime victims - and the resources necessary to serve them - will be given top billing with Eric Holder as Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice.
One of our major concerns at OJP and the Department is sustaining local victim services. We know that the economy has many people hurting, and local victim assistance programs - and state compensation programs, for that matter - are feeling the pinch. We're very concerned about that. We know that communities are seeing increases in crime, and that much of it can be attributed to the economy. The last thing we want to see during these troubled times is victim assistance programs closing their doors. We never want to see a sexual assault victim turned away from a rape crisis shelter, or a survivor of a homicide victim told that she's on her own. We can't have that happen. And the Attorney General and I are determined not to let it happen.
The Recovery Act that President Obama just signed into law is a sign of this Administration's commitment to victims and to public safety.
The Recovery Act makes $4 billion available to the Justice Department to support criminal justice efforts, including victim assistance. Two-point-seventy-six billion dollars of that is being administered by OJP.
Of that $2.76 billion, $95 million is available specifically for victim assistance and compensation programs. There's also $225 million of discretionary funding under the Byrne Competitive Grants Program. Public agencies and non-profit organizations will be able to compete for that funding, and one of our focus areas will be victim assistance.
Getting this money out is our highest priority, and we're moving quickly. We're just about to post formula grant solicitations (our goal is to have them up by March 9th), and discretionary grant solicitations will follow shortly thereafter. Once the solicitations close, we plan to make formula awards within 30 days and begin awarding discretionary awards in April.
I should mention that OVC is working especially hard to get their awards out. They plan to have their awards made by the end of June, at the latest.
We're fully prepared to meet these timelines. I was really impressed when I returned to OJP at the end of January and found that a high-level group was already in place to handle any new stimulus funding. I can also tell you from my experience at OJP with the Crime Bill funding in the 90s, that we have the wherewithal to move a lot of money quickly.
Outreach is also important. We're aggressively reaching out to potential applicants to ensure that they know about the funding that's available and the process for applying. Our Web site directs visitors to our own Recovery Act page, which has links to solicitations and information on how to apply.
We'll need your help with this. We're asking that national and state organizations and associations spread the word about these resources and help connect potential applicants to the help they need to apply. We want to make sure that no one is left out by virtue of the quick turnaround.
The Recovery Act also includes a pot of money that is targeted to this audience. Five million dollars in discretionary funding is available specifically for victim assistance training, technical assistance, and demonstration projects. Many, if not all of you, have seen the solicitation posted on OVC's Web site for National Field-Generated Projects. That solicitation focuses on nine areas of crime victimization, and we're looking for applications that address a demonstrated gap in training or technical assistance or in the knowledge base of practitioners. What we'd like to see are proposals that meet a need for which there are no resources or only limited resources, such as victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault and male victims of sexual assault.
The new funding will allow us to make more awards under this program. With the new money, we've extended the deadline for applications to March 24th.
This is very good news for us at OJP and OVC because next to dedicated personnel, we believe there is no greater need in victim services than training and more field-tested programs to serve as models. We also understand that to provide quality services, we must support state-of-the-art training and resources for those who serve crime victims.
One of my goals in the short time I'm with OJP is to help set in motion a move toward evidence-based approaches to victim assistance, to law enforcement, to juvenile delinquency - to marry the science with the practice. You heard the President say it himself in his inaugural address - "We'll restore science to its rightful place." We want to know that the programs that we fund are working, and we want to get the word out about those that are.
Another one of my goals is to ensure a lively and active dialogue and partnership with groups in the field. You've spent a lot of time during the last several years being told things. I think we in OJP need to spend more time listening - hearing from you about the issues you're facing and the concerns you have - finding out what we can do to help you to better serve victims. We want to hear your ideas, and I think this meeting is a good place to begin.
In fact, OVC has a listening session planned on Thursday. I think that's great! I'd be particularly interested in your thoughts on ways to meet the needs of inner-city and other underserved populations, like hate crime victims and victims from the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. Are there things we can do to better serve children and domestic violence victims? Is there a need for a different approach to victim services in economically distressed communities?
Finally, I want to ensure a collaborative working relationship between the bureaus at OJP and with other parts of the Justice Department, as well as with other agencies outside of Justice. OVC is our leader in victims' issues, but our other bureaus and offices have important roles to play as well. For example, you'll hear tomorrow about some of our work in the area of human trafficking, which is a joint effort between OVC and our Bureau of Justice Assistance. I believe that victim services should be integrated into our criminal justice and public safety efforts, and I want OJP's activities to reflect that.
We've entered a new era at the Department of Justice. The Attorney General and I share a strong commitment to victims' rights and services. We believe that the work you do is vital to the integrity and credibility of our criminal justice system. And you can be sure that we will fight to give you the resources you need to do your jobs effectively.
I want to encourage you to share your ideas while you're here. Tell us what issues we should be looking at and how we can do our jobs better. I think the OVC staff is second to none, but they can't do their work in a vacuum. So, give us your feedback.
I look forward to hearing those ideas, and I look forward to working with you.
Thank you for your time and for all the work you do, and have a great meeting.