Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at the Grand Opening of the Family Justice Center

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
August 28, 2007

Thank you. I'd like to thank Mary Beth -- and the Office on Violence Against Women -- for their role in getting this center off the ground, and for their support of crime victims all across America each and every day.

Hurricane Katrina did not just wash away homes and livelihoods; it also destroyed some of the key services needed by victims in New Orleans. But in its aftermath, we had the opportunity to create a new model to provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

We at the Department of Justice were proud to work with elected officials, Catholic Charities and others in state and local governments and the non-profit community in this effort. Together, we've worked to determine the best ways to address the specific needs of the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in New Orleans. That spirit of cooperation, of neighbors helping neighbors, brought us together as partners to establish this Family Justice Center in record time.

Today, we celebrate the renewal of more than bricks and mortar, because this Family Justice Center is about helping people rebuild their lives.

Here, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault will be able to come to one central location for comprehensive support when they need it most. Under one roof, they will be able to see a lawyer, talk to the police, file court documents, even speak with a counselor or therapist.

The circumstances that lead someone to seek the services of a place like this one are often traumatic. Finding help shouldn't compound the problem, but too often in the past, it has.

Victims face so many challenges: legal obstacles, emotional scars, practical difficulties such as child care, shelter, and transportation, and plenty of pain. When President Bush announced an initiative to create Family Justice Centers in fifteen communities, the formula was simple: open a full-service center that would stop the run-around.

At the Department of Justice, we're doing our part to try to reduce the number of victims and to hold offenders accountable. If we can reduce the number of women and families from needing the services of this Center in the first place, we'll be doing our job as well.

And so I am also pleased to announce today the awarding of an additional 60 grants, totaling more than $21 million. These grants will help law enforcement, local governments and community organizations in Louisiana to reduce crime, including domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and teen dating violence.

But as long as there is a need, it is important that we continue to work together so that this place can become a vital part of the community. Victims will come to rely on the services and support they find here at the Family Justice Center, and I urge the community of New Orleans -- both the public and private sectors -- to continue to embrace this Center in the future.

Victims should not be left to make it through a confusing and overwhelming process on their own. And no one agency or organization can get the job done alone either. This Family Justice Center is built on partnerships and teamwork -- common goals and uncommon compassion. Together, we are sending victims and important message: they are not on their own.

As I announced yesterday, I will be stepping down on September 17th. One of the things I am most proud of is the role of the Department in working with local and state law enforcement to protect their communities. Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This is my eighth visit to New Orleans in that time, and on each visit I have been pleased to see a little more progress, a little more rebuilding, a little more renewal. You have undertaken heroic efforts to restore peace and normalcy to your damaged community.

For our part, the Department has made available more than $86 million to the state of Louisiana to shore up the criminal justice system, and disbursed nearly $30 million to the New Orleans area for equipment including vehicles, prison beds, generators, and riot gear to support local law enforcement, the court system, and the District Attorney's office.

And to make sure the relief dollars get where they're supposed to, we created a special task force to investigate, and deter, disaster-related fraud. So far that task force has processed more than 17,000 complaints and charged 764 individuals around the country.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, under the leadership of Jim Letten, has added prosecutors to handle other cases like violent crime and immigration offenses. Last year the office increased violent crime prosecutions by 32 percent over the year before, with a 98 percent conviction rate, taking hundred of criminals off the streets.

And we've had similar efforts across the board -- the FBI, ATF, DEA, and the Marshals Service have all increased their capacity and worked with their state and local counterparts to restore the criminal justice system in New Orleans.

We will continue to work with you to help your neighbors begin to feel safe again, so that they can lift themselves up and rebuild this beautiful city. You are all a part of the formula that will allow this Center to succeed in its mission of hope.

May God bless you all in your important work, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.

###