Speech * of Deputy Attorney General
LARRY D. THOMPSON
at Georgia Justice Project
Friday - May 17, 2002
Friends and fellow supporters of the Georgia Justice Project. It is a pleasure to be back home in Atlanta and to have an opportunity to share this celebration of the great work being done by the Georgia Justice Project.
In this fragile time in our country's history, many of us are asking ourselves questions, hard questions about life, our great country and our blessings and our faith. The Sunday following the 9/11 attacks, churches and temples all across our country were completely filled. I know I thought a lot of things. But one of the things I thought about was the work of organizations and efforts like the Georgia Justice Project.
THE CONCEPT OF JUSTICE
Each of the major religions in our Western Civilization share the themes of respect and sympathy for our fellow human beings. Christians call it the Golden Rule, from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."1
Similarly, the Talmud teaches: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary."2 The Koran teaches: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."3 All three can be summed up as: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
The Georgia Justice Project takes these moral precepts to heart in performing what is all too often a dehumanizing process. You do that by picking up where our justice systems leaves off - focusing your energies on rehabilitating "the least, the last, and the lost" to make them productive members of our society.
I know from my own experience as a criminal defense lawyer that every defendant has a problem, and that problem may reach well beyond the strict definitions of the criminal charge. Defendants' from every walk of life worry about their reputations, their relation to the community, their futures. I always counseled clients to think long-term and try to solve their problems and get their lives together rather than needlessly fighting the prosecution tooth and nail - although sometimes I did that, too.
This Project fulfills this mission by representing poor criminal defendants and giving them the tools they need to lead productive, crime-free lives. The emphasis here is on building the person back up from despair and degeneracy. This is the most difficult project that a public service group can undertake, and the Georgia Justice Project has performed it admirably. Starting with the hardest cases, the Project has consistently achieved results in recidivism rates far lower than the average for the other criminal defendants.
These results are stunning testimony to the effective combination of compassion, morals and dedication. Working with religious advisors of all faiths, the Project shows its clients not only how to behave lawfully, but why they should.
Since last year, the Project's criminal case load was far exceeded by the social services provided to clients in the form of individual and group counseling, substance abuse counseling, educational activities, and prison visitation.
The Georgia Justice Project's considerable success is directly attributable to its treating its clients with dignity and respect. It focuses on the whole person - including the person's physical, emotional and spiritual needs - rather than just the legal matter which brought the person to its door.
The people the Georgia Justice Project represents are not just cases or clients, they are neighborhood brothers and sisters. In short, the Georgia Justice Project succeeds because its staff treats others as they themselves would want to be treated if they were "the least, the last and the lost."
CALL TO SERVICE
The work being done here at the Georgia Justice Project is a shining example of our national call to service. It is groups like this Project that fulfill the unmet needs of our communities with the compassion and faith that can turn tragedy into hope. As well meaning as governments may be, they cannot match voluntary private efforts like this one in rekindling the spirit of community in their citizens.
As you all know the President has been much concerned with leading the war against terrorism. But he is a compassionate man, so he has not missed the opportunity to link our fight to the goodness of spirit that links Americans. The President said:
"People ask me all the time, what can I do in the fight against terror? And the answer is, do something good.
"This is the strength of the country. .... We're tapping into the great soul of America. The spirit of our country is one based upon neighborhoods, people helping each other, communities all bound up with one thing in mind, how to make people's lives better."4
I applaud the work that Georgia Justice Project is doing by helping to strengthen our nation. Their good work to inculcate high moral standards creates a sharp contrast with the evil of terrorism. We should all thank them for helping the poor and downtrodden by treating them the way any of us would want to be treated - with kindness, compassion and charity.
Thank you, and God bless.
*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.
1 Matthew 7:12.
2 Talmud, Shabbat 31a
4 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE - Charlotte, North Carolina - 2/27/02