Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the Victim's Rights Roundtable
Washington, D.C. Good morning. I want to welcome each of you to the Department of Justice and to this roundtable discussion. It is important that I meet with groups such as yours so that we can continue to do our joint and solemn duty — namely, to honor past victims of crime, to care for those victims currently in our communities, and to prevent future tragedies from occurring. Victims‘ rights issues are a significant priority for the Department, and I assure you that in the brief time I have to serve as Attorney General, I am committed to working with you on behalf of victims of crime.
Friday, February 8, 2008 - 10:00 A.M.
The groups here today represent a wide range of views on important issues. As you undoubtedly know, those perspectives may at times conflict, and make for lively discussion, but by and large, all of our efforts here are mutually supportive and supplement one another. Victims‘ rights, moreover, is itself a broad concept, encompassing several issues and a variety of efforts to prevent crime and enforce the law. I‘d like to mention briefly three of those key issues.
First, and most significantly, is the work that we are doing to protect our citizens from the curse of violent crime. Despite historically low crime levels nationally, many of our communities still face challenges, and we must do all that we can to address this continuing threat.
To be sure, the federal government‘s resources are not unlimited, and neither are those of state and local governments. It is for that reason that we are working with our state and local partners to focus our resources where they are most needed. For example, the Department‘s fiscal year 2009 budget requests an additional $200 million in funding for the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership, which will help communities address their specific violent crime challenges, especially where multiple jurisdictions are involved.
We also have targeted the worst of the worst offenders by expanding some of our most successful cooperative programs, including Project Safe Neighborhoods, the ATF-led Violent Crime Impact Teams, the FBI‘s Safe Streets Task Forces, and our Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative. The acronyms generated by these and many other initiatives are sometimes dizzying, but the Department‘s array of efforts is designed with one ultimate goal in mind: to take the most serious violent offenders off our streets and place them behind bars where they cannot re-offend.
Our efforts, however, to reduce violent crime—and therefore to prevent more of our citizens from becoming the victims of violent crime—may be undermined by another recent development: the U.S. Sentencing Commission‘s decision to apply retroactively, effective March 3, 2008, a new—and lower—guideline sentencing range for crack cocaine offenses. Unless Congress acts by the March 3 deadline, nearly 1,600 convicted crack dealers will be eligible after resentencing for immediate release into communities nationwide. Over all, the Sentencing Commission estimates that retroactive application of these lower guidelines could lead to the resentencing of more than 20,000 crack cocaine offenders, many of whom will be released early.
Many of these offenders are among the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system, and the retroactive application of these lower guidelines risks tragic, but predictable, results. These individuals, moreover, may be released without the benefit of appropriate re-entry programs, increasing the risks of recidivism and further imperiling the safety of the communities to which they would return.
To combat these risks, we think it is imperative for Congress to pass legislation that addresses the Sentencing Commission‘s decision before the March 3 deadline. We are not seeking to prolong the sentences of those offenders who pose the least threat to their communities, such as first-time, non-violent offenders. Nevertheless, it is important we recognize that the true victims in this equation are not the criminals who may have received steep sentences, but rather, the communities and the individuals harmed by their crimes and those who may be victimized in the future if they are released prematurely.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the human trafficking reauthorization bill. I think we would all agree that adult prostitution is not a victimless crime. The real issue, however, is whether adult prostitution is itself a federal issue that requires a federal response. We do not believe that it is. The House bill would dramatically recast the Department‘s highly successful fight against child exploitation, and in doing so, it would inevitably divert resources away from one of the Department‘s—and the Nation‘s—highest priorities.
Current federal anti-trafficking laws focus on crimes in which victims are under 18 years of age, or have been exploited through force, fraud, or coercion. These laws are rooted in the federal government‘s authority to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment‘s prohibition against involuntary servitude. The House bill, by contrast, would equate every instance of adult prostitution with the worst forms of labor and sexual exploitation, the ones often called modern-day slavery. We should not dilute the Department‘s core anti-trafficking mission in this manner, particularly when states are better situated to combat crimes such as adult prostitution.
Of course, I would like to hear your views on these and other important issues. I appreciate your attendance at this roundtable discussion, and I look forward to continue working with you to serve our common goals. Thank you.