OPDAT was created in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in 1991 in response to the growing threat of international crime. OPDAT's mission is to assist prosecutors and judicial personnel in other countries develop and sustain effective criminal justice institutions. OPDAT recognizes that international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of criminals and organized crime groups is central to countering international crime at its source; and that the efficient and fair administration of justice offers the greatest protection from lawlessness and support for basic human rights.
OPDAT draws on Department of Justice resources and expertise to strengthen foreign criminal justice sector institutions and enhance the administration of justice abroad. OPDAT supports the United States and the Department's law enforcement objectives and priorities by preparing foreign counterparts to cooperate more fully and effectively with the United States in combating terrorism, trafficking in persons, organized crime, corruption, financial crimes, and other transnational crime. It does so by encouraging legislative and justice sector reform in countries with inadequate laws; by improving the skills of foreign prosecutors, investigators and judges; and by promoting the rule of law and regard for human rights.
Since 1991, OPDAT has placed Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs) in over 37 countries, providing full time advice and technical assistance to host governments in establishing fair and transparent justice sector institutions and practices. RLAs serve in a specific country for at least one year. They assess the host country criminal justice institutions and procedures; draft, review and comment on legislation and criminal enforcement policy; and provide technical assistance to host country officials at the Ministry of Justice, Chief Prosecutor's Office, or to prosecutors, judges, and other justice sector personnel working in the field. Assistance programs focusing on a specific aspect of criminal justice or designed to be completed in less than a year may be staffed by an Intermittent Legal Advisor (ILA). ILAs have provided assistance in money laundering, transnational crime, corruption, and trafficking in both narcotics and people.
OPDAT focuses on long-term comprehensive, sustainable reform. When possible, OPDAT and its sister agency—the DOJ's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP)—integrate their programs and work with other federal law enforcement agencies to develop all three pillars of the criminal justice system: prosecutors/criminal justice reform, police, and corrections.
OPDAT enjoys unique access to some of the most experienced criminal justice experts in the nation. The Department of Justice, with 5,000 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and 400 Criminal Division prosecutors, provides a primary source of expertise. Depending upon the needs of the host country, OPDAT can also request assistance from other Department of Justice components, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Drug Enforcement Agency; Federal Bureau of Prisons; U.S. Marshals Service; and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. In addition, OPDAT can utilize the law enforcement expertise of other federal departments, such as Treasury, and Homeland Security, as well as state and local prosecutor offices. OPDAT can also draw upon alliances with the private bar, state and federal judiciaries; professional organizations, including the National District Attorneys Association, American Prosecutor Research Institute, and American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative.
OPDAT provides an array of technical assistance and training in these areas:
Criminal procedure code reform
Criminal justice sector infrastructure reform
Task force development
Streamlining of the judicial process
Organization and management of prosecutorial function
Capacity-building of foreign prosecutors, investigators, and judges
Promotion of rule of law and regard for human rights
Human Trafficking & Child Exploitation
Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture
Computer and Intellectual Property Crimes