Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Jefferson County Gun Court Event
Birmingham, Alabama
August 15, 2001

I've been impressed by what I've seen here today at the Juvenile Gun Court, particularly the cooperation among the court, the sheriff's department, police, and probation officials all working together to get kids back on track.

I understand this is one of the few, innovative programs in the country aimed at reducing gun-related youth crime through a court-based program.

Your program is sending the message that gun violence will not be tolerated in Jefferson County.

But at the same time, by pairing firm sanctions with intensive supervision and a range of services, you're helping juvenile gun offenders to learn their lesson the first time around, heading off more serious involvement in crime.

I'm particularly pleased that the program incorporates parent education. This component impresses upon parents the seriousness of their child's involvement with guns and the consequences of gun crime on youth, families, and our communities.

And it's also important to note that, under this program, intensive supervision continues when a youth returns home from boot camp. Those who have looked closely at these programs tell us that this kind of follow-up and supervision are essential in preventing additional crimes.

At the Department of Justice, we're working to encourage more communities to adopt this kind of innovative approach to reducing gun violence. Through our major new initiative, Project Safe Neighborhoods, we're demonstrating a nationwide commitment to reduce gun crime in America by networking existing local programs that target gun crime - like the Jefferson County Juvenile Drug Court - and to provide those programs with additional tools to be successful.

Our goal is to reduce gun related violence in America and to sustain that reduction. This year, 113 new federal prosecutors will be dedicated to prosecute illegal gun use under Project Safe Neighborhoods, and $75 million in grants will be used to hire and train approximately 600 state and local gun prosecutors.

In addition, $144.3 million in funding is being dedicated for other programs that will support the activities under Project Safe Neighborhoods.

And President Bush's FY 2002 budget request for the Department of Justice includes $189 million to continue enforcement of gun laws under this initiative and to ensure that child safety locks are available for every handgun in America.

These efforts will build on the success programs like the Jefferson County Juvenile Gun Court. An evaluation of the Gun Court found that participants had significantly lower levels of recidivism than nonparticipants - a 17 percent recidivism rate for participants compared to 40 percent for the comparison group.

It also found gun court participants were more likely to participate in educational programs than other youth, and that parents of gun court participants were more likely to attend the Parent Education Program.

In addition, the evaluation found that violent crimes fell 57 percent in Birmingham since the gun court was implemented, and juvenile gun crimes decreased 54 percent.

Although these reductions cannot be directly attributed to the gun court program, the evaluation said, they may be attributable to the cumulative effect of this initiative and other youth violence reduction programs in Jefferson County.

So thank you all for your outstanding work. I hope other communities across the country will follow your example in implementing this effective approach to reducing juvenile gun crime.

Thank you for allowing me to learn about your efforts, and for all you are doing to increase the safety of your community and to put young people on the road to law-abiding behavior. Thank you very much.