Justice News

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli Speaks at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Albuquerque, NM
United States
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Thank you Ron Solimon for not only that kind introduction but for the presentation you gave us earlier of the facility. You have a lot to be proud of for the work you do every day and I want to congratulate you.

I am here in Albuquerque for two reasons this week. As many of you know, the Department of Justice has launched an agency-wide initiative on criminal justice in Indian Country. To do this right, we must first listen and learn from our tribal leaders and tribal law enforcement experts. So I am here to meet with leaders in the tribal community, including tribal law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors, to gather their insights. We did this as well in Seattle last month led by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, and next month, we take the conversation to a new level. Culminating these working sessions, the Department is inviting leaders from all federally recognized tribes to a Tribal Nations Listening Conference with the Attorney General in Minnesota. We want to engage substantively with our tribal leaders, to learn from their experiences, to listen to their insights, and to develop concrete initiatives that can make a real difference in the lives of Native Americans.

I often speak about my personal interest in criminal justice in Indian Country. In fact, both the Deputy Attorney General and I were very involved in Indian Country law enforcement initiatives in our previous roles in the Reno Justice Department. But returning a decade later to the Department, I see how much remains to be done. This has been echoed in our discussions with tribal leaders and experts in the past several weeks. Public safety in Indian Country requires our urgent attention. Violent crime in much of Indian Country is staggering, and its effects on the everyday lives of tribal communities are unacceptable. Our tribal nations face enormous law enforcement challenges, particularly with respect to violent crime, violence against women, and crimes against children. While tribal nations accomplish a tremendous amount with the resources they have, those resources are wholly inadequate to the serious criminal justice problems they face each day.

That brings me to the second reason I am here today. We’ve done a lot of listening, and we will continue to listen. But it’s also time we put actions behind our words. That is why I am honored to announce that the Department of Justice is awarding more than $82.29 million to pueblos and reservations in New Mexico and Navajo Nation today.

When we look at today’s funding – we see the most critical areas in need:

  • More than $79.6 million to construct and renovate correction facilities in areas with bed space needs and high rates of violent crime;
  • More than $1.23 million to support pueblos and tribes’ efforts to respond to violent crimes against American Indian women and enhance victim safety and prevention strategies;
  • More than $325,000 to create sex offender registries to protect our young children from predators; and
  • More than $1 million to help tribal communities improve their juvenile justice systems, including prevention and mental health services.

Almost all of the money awarded today – about $80 million – comes through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In the Recovery Act, the Obama administration focused on how to stimulate the economy and help communities that are suffering financially, and made sure there were funds for Indian Country, which has tremendous needs. While much of the focus on the Recovery Act has been about job creation – we know that the economy is a critical step for public safety. Safer communities and healthy families are a building block for the nation and our economic recovery.

I want to point out that we have some special guests with us today. We have invited each of our grant recipients to join us, and I’d like to ask them to stand so we can congratulate them. Thank you all for the work that you do and congratulations on this critical funding.

The diversity of these grants mirrors what we all know – that justice in Indian Country will not be solved by a single grant or a single piece of legislation. We need to continue to work together to identify where we at the Department of Justice can make a change, by continuing to work with tribal communities to listen and learn. We have to work with our partners in the federal family to make sure that you are getting the staff and materials you need for correctional facilities. We need to make sure that legislation, like the Adam Walsh Act, is complimented with funding like SMART grants to make sure you have the tools you need to comply with new policies.

And we must turn the spotlight on violence against women and children. We know that domestic violence and sexual assault are issues of enormous importance to tribal communities because of their impact on not only the women in the community, but their children and families as well. As the Department prepares to honor the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act and the creation of an Office on Violence Against Women, we recognize that there is much work to be done here. All of us know what violence against women has done to your communities.

But we also know that money alone cannot fix the problems of justice in Indian Country. In fact, one of the things I have learned in my work on these issues is that the government has not done an effective job with the money we’ve had. You cannot build a prison if there isn’t funds to staff it. You cannot focus on detention without also looking at prevention and intervention programs that target tribal youth and help motivate them and turn their lives around. You cannot talk about keeping communities safe, if you do not protect women and children from violence and sexual assault.

I believe that the work we have begun in the administration, which will continue with our sessions here in Albuquerque, has already made a difference. What we are looking for are the short- and long-term solutions that combine the lessons learned from the past with the resources have, and will continue to fight for, in the future. I feel confident that we are on the right track to really get things done and put together substantive proposals and initiatives that can lead not only to better strategies for law enforcement and detention – which are of course important – but also for the treatment and prevention programs that make communities better.

My trip here is another step forward, but we have many steps to go in what I know will be a long partnership with tribal communities. What we are doing now, and the Listening Conference in October, will provide the foundation from which to take action. And taking action on public safety issues in Indian Country is exactly what the Department of Justice intends to do.

It’s a privilege to help lead this initiative for the Department of Justice. You have my personal commitment to work to ensure that – drawing on the insights, guidance, and partnership of tribal leaders – we all make a meaningful difference together.