Justice Blogs

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

OIP’s Best Practices Workshop series continued at the end of 2015 with one event focusing on best practices for small agencies and another on reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. Launched in 2014, the Best Practices Workshop series was designed as a part of the United States’ Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to modernize FOIA administration. The goal of the series is to improve FOIA processes by leveraging effective strategies from across the government, highlighting successes achieved by agencies and sharing successful strategies on a wide range of FOIA issues.

In August 2015, agency colleagues participated in a discussion on best practices in FOIA administration for small agencies. Over half of federal agencies received less than 200 FOIA requests annually in the last five fiscal years and this workshop was designed in recognition of the unique challenges faced by those small-volume agencies. Moderated by OIP Director Melanie Ann Pustay, the panel included representatives from the Office of Government Ethics, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Farm Credit Administration, and the Department of Justice's Tax Division. What was most note-worthy about this event was the extent to which these small-volume agencies utilized many of the same techniques and approaches to their FOIA administration as the larger-volume agencies. During the event, the panelists highlighted numerous best practices they have relied on to achieve success in FOIA administration, including:

  • Collaborating with agency personnel, including non-FOIA personnel
  • Using Multi-Track Processing
  • Communicating with requesters
  • Conducting Internal Reviews of FOIA Practices and Procedures 
  • Utilizing a FOIA Tracking System or Database

The August workshop was followed by a December 2015 event discussing best practices for reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. Given the ongoing importance of improving timeliness and reducing any backlogs of pending requests, OIP’s very first Best Practices Workshop event in May 2014 focused on those topics. In 2015 OIP held another Best Practices Workshop that concentrated on those topics. This most recent event built off the successes and strategies first introduced during the initial 2014 discussion. Serving on the panel at this event were representatives from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Energy. Each panelist shared the approaches their agencies had taken to achieve success, including:

  • Leveraging Technology
  • Utilizing Active Case Management Techniques
  • Getting Employee Buy-in
  • Developing Quality Staff
  • Building Relationships Amongst Program Offices

This combination of approaches, while requiring ongoing focus and attention, has proven to be successful for the agencies participating in the Workshop. Additional details on the best practices discussed during these events, as well as OIP resources on these topics, are available on our Best Practices Workshops page.

The Best Practices Workshop series continues next month with a discussion on best practices from the requesters perspective on March 16th.  Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information on this series and other events offered by OIP.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Friday, January 29, 2016

Courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)

Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up with the guidance and support of a caring adult. 

January marks the 14th annual National Mentoring Month, a nationwide campaign that aims to recruit mentors and focus national attention on the importance of those working together to ensure positive outcomes for youth.

OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee and a participant at the 6th annual National Mentoring SummitThis is a great time to discuss why mentoring programs are critical to the success of our youth and how OJJDP is supporting these programs around the country.  We know mentoring can positively impact young people, helping to keep them from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system and guiding them toward a happy and productive future.

OJJDP has long been a strong champion of mentoring programs and I am proud of the commitment that we have shown in this field. Just last year, we awarded nearly $80 million in discretionary grant funding to support programs around the country.  This included a focus on mentoring for underserved youth populations, including American Indian and Alaska Native youth.

At this time last year, OJJDP partnered with MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to launch the National Mentoring Resource Center, which supports organizations across the country as they implement effective youth mentoring programs and promote healthy youth development.

OJJDP has also funded mentoring research, including investigator-initiated and demonstration projects to move the field toward evidence-based and effective practices for youth mentoring.  

Research has helped us understand what mentoring programs, practices, and resources have been effective and what aspects of these programs should be emulated in others.

This year, we are proud to announce a new feature within the National Mentoring Resource Center that highlights what the research says about specific mentoring programs and their target populations. Our first review focuses on group mentoring, where one or more mentors is matched with a group of youth for a shared mentoring experience.

As research institutions across the country point out, mentoring programs can improve school attendance rates, increase the odds that young adults will enroll in college, and decrease the likelihood that young men and women will begin using drugs or alcohol.

Personally, I have seen the voids in the lives of children without mentors. I saw it when I served as the Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia where I met countless children with very adult problems and little to no adult guidance.

I have also seen the transformative power of mentoring. I have seen troubled boys become responsible men and at-risk girls become empowered women under the guidance of caring adults. Those moments and triumphs are the story of mentoring.

Good mentors provide a sense of emotional connection and active guidance, and they become positive role models. They can also help build resilience in young people who have suffered trauma and other adverse childhood experiences.

For example, mentoring programs have shown to be a promising form of support for youth with incarcerated parents. It is estimated that 1.7 million youth in this country have at least one parent currently in prison and millions more have a parent in jail.

Through the Second Chance Act, OJJDP has funded a grant that uses mentoring to strengthen the relationships between young fathers and young mothers and their children as they transition from correctional facilities back to their families and communities.

President Obama recognized the importance of mentoring programs when he proclaimed October 2015 as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. In that proclamation, he highlighted My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative that aims to eliminate the barriers and opportunity gaps that boys and young men of color face.

OJJDP is a proud partner with this initiative, which helps to address these issues and provide these youth the tools they need to ensure their success.  A number of tools that support mentoring programs around the country can be found at our National Mentoring Resource Center.

We are also partnering with MENTOR to host the 6th annual National Mentoring Summit, which is being held January 27-29, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Summit will bring together nearly 1,000 individuals who represent the mentoring movement, including federal and local government agencies, practitioners, researchers, civic leaders, and others.

This is an excellent opportunity to discuss how we can advance mentoring programs and celebrate those who are doing great work in supporting young men and women around the country. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Stay tuned to OJJDP.gov and subscribe to our news services—JUVJUST and OJJDP News @ a Glance—to learn more about how OJJDP supports mentoring programs and is working to advance juvenile justice system reform.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

Since he took office, President Obama has demonstrated bold leadership by advancing an agenda for common-sense criminal justice reform, advocating for more fair, more effective and more efficient criminal justice policies.  President Obama’s announcement yesterday that he will adopt the Justice Department’s recommendations to reform the use of restrictive housing – including solitary confinement – in our federal prison system marks a critical, and indeed historic, step of progress.

Since January 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has reduced the total number of inmates in restrictive housing by nearly 25 percent.  And we believe this report provides a policy framework to substantially reduce the BOP’s restrictive housing population even further.  Our central finding – that corrections officials should limit their use of solitary confinement by employing it rarely, fairly and reasonably – stems from a comprehensive and evidence-based review completed by a working group of senior officials from across the Justice Department, including from the Civil Rights Division and the BOP.

Each day, corrections officials face dangerous and complex challenges with no immediate or easy solutions.  In some cases, segregation is important to protect the safety of inmates, staff and the public.  But we must change our approach and view solitary confinement as a last resort to protect public safety rather than a first response to inflict punishment.  Our report establishes more than 50 “Guiding Principles,” or best practices, designed to serve as a roadmap for reform as correctional systems across the country confront this issue.

Building on these principles, we also outline a series of detailed policy recommendations for the federal system to translate this approach into action, particularly in the BOP.  These recommendations, which President Obama has adopted in their entirety, include ending solitary confinement for juveniles; diverting inmates with serious mental illness to secure mental health units in each BOP region and hiring psychologists to work in each Special Housing Unit (SHU); limiting the use of disciplinary segregation and making across-the-board reductions in maximum penalties; building special-purpose units for inmates in need of protective custody, so they do not end up in restrictive housing; directing wardens to expand out-of-cell time; discouraging the placement of inmates in any form of restrictive housing during the final 180 days of their prison terms; posting monthly data on the use of restrictive housing on the BOP website; and much more.

In the Civil Rights Division, we combat the abuse of restrictive housing through our enforcement of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which authorizes us to investigate state and local jails and prisons to determine whether they engage in a pattern or practice of violating the rights of prisoners.  In recent years, we have focused on the particular harms caused by the use of restrictive housing for vulnerable populations, including prisoners with serious mental illness and juveniles.  We have had cases examining restrictive housing in jurisdictions across multiples states and territories, including in California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and the Virgin Islands.

In 2013 we found that a Pennsylvania state prison, SCI Cresson, used long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, in violation of both the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Following our findings at SCI Cresson, we expanded our investigation statewide and found prisoners across Pennsylvania with serious mental illness enduring prolonged solitary confinement under harsh conditions that caused serious harm, including severe mental deterioration, psychosis and acts of self-harm.  More than 70 percent of documented suicide attempts over a 17-month period occurred in the system’s solitary confinement units.

In another important case, in 2007 a Justice Department investigation uncovered juvenile correctional institutions in Ohio falling painfully short of their legal responsibilities to support the safety, health and educational needs of detained children.  A youth correctional facility in the City of Delaware, Ohio, held youth in seclusion for actions as mundane as refusing breakfast, cursing and talking in class.  Following a settlement agreement we reached with the State of Ohio to ensure systemic reform and protect children, Ohio has achieved noteworthy changes in its juvenile corrections system and policies.  These transformative reforms to juvenile correctional facilities – including eliminating the use of solitary confinement for punishment and ensuring individualized mental health care – led us to terminate our consent decree last year and close the case.

The lessons we have learned about restrictive housing – shaped in part by the injustices we exposed in Pennsylvania and Ohio – demonstrate the urgent need for a fundamental shift in how we use and apply solitary confinement.  President Obama’s strong stance, clear direction and firm leadership this week give me great optimism in our ability to continue driving that change in the days and months ahead.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

A new Justice Department report released last week provides valuable guidance and instructive insights to help us better understand the threat of sexual violence on college campuses.  Released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and funded by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), the report includes a Campus Climate Survey Validation Study (CCSVS), which employed behaviorally-specific questions to survey thousands of students across nine schools.

The figures highlighted in the pilot survey portray a disturbing, but not surprising, picture.  President Obama has rightfully described sexual assault as “an affront to our basic decency and humanity.”  Two years ago, he launched the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which highlighted the important role of campus climate surveys to identify troubling trends and implement effective solutions.  And through guidance, outreach and enforcement, this administration has prioritized its response to the heinous crime of sexual assault.

In the Civil Rights Division, we continue to help play a leadership role in this administration-wide effort by enforcing Title IX to ensure that colleges and universities receiving federal funding protect students from sexual assault before it occurs, guarantee a fair and equitable investigative process for all parties and support victims during the investigation and resolution of complaints.  We also enforce the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act to promote effective, non-discriminatory, and constitutional policing practices – and to provide community support for victims and law enforcement officers.

Our work in Missoula, Montana presents an important example of both the complex challenges we face and the collaborative solutions we need to keep our communities and our campuses safe from sexual violence.  In 2013, a Justice Department investigation found that the state university, campus police, local police department and county attorney’s office had fallen short of their legal responsibilities in responding to sexual assault complaints.  As a result of our investigation, we reached four agreements centered on reforming the Missoula community’s collective response process.  Both the campus and city police adopted a series of critical reforms.  Through specialized training, clearer policies, enhanced data collection and external review panels, law enforcement in Missoula and the University of Montana have demonstrated the dramatic reform that can result when authorities inform community members and coordinate their response activities.

But to maximize the impact of our efforts, we recognize the critical role of accurate and comprehensive data to shape our approach.  And last week’s report provides a valuable model that campuses can replicate and customize on their own – along with a series of best practices – to help schools and researchers design and implement climate surveys.

Victims of sexual assault often suffer physical and emotional trauma that can linger for years and stretch into nearly every area of their lives.  In the new campus climate survey, we found that 19 percent of female rape victims dropped or considered dropping classes, 7 percent changed where they lived, 31 percent said their academic performance suffered and 22 percent considered taking time off or dropping out of school.

The survey also found that freshmen female students faced the greatest risk during the first few months of the academic year.  With students reporting a particularly high number of assaults in August, it highlights the urgent need to educate students with effective prevention training about sexual assault, consent, bystander intervention and available resources before classes even begin.  And as we know all too well in sexual assault cases – and as our report confirmed once again – few victims report sexual assaults.  Across nine schools, students reported only about 13 percent of rape incidents and 5 percent of sexual battery incidents to a school, campus police or local law enforcement official.

Beyond the specific numbers, however, this report underscores a critical part of the Justice Department’s approach to addressing sexual assault.  Ultimately, meaningful reform must take shape at the local level, driven by customized solutions that address the unique challenges facing each community and each campus.  Advancing that kind of reform requires fully understanding the problem.  And campus climate surveys can play a key role in setting us on the right path. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women

Yesterday morning, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a groundbreaking report: the Campus Climate Survey Validation Study (CCSVS) Final Technical Report, a key deliverable of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault (Task Force).  Established by President Obama on Jan.  22, 2014, to develop a coordinated federal response to campus rape and sexual assault, the Task Force recommended in its first report that schools conduct climate surveys to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, assess students’ perceptions of the climate at their school on the issue and obtain valuable information to develop solutions.  The Task Force also released a toolkit and sample survey, which the BJS study – funded by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) – revised and pilot tested at nine diverse colleges and universities, including public, private and community colleges. 

A total of over 23,000 students completed the survey, and the results were incredibly informative.  This study showed that each of the nine schools had unique “climate” factors – perceptions and beliefs related to sexual assault and sexual harassment.  The BJS study also revealed different rates of sexual assault at each institution and how schools varied across different measures.

  • For undergraduate females, prevalence rates of completed sexual assaults ranged from 4 percent to 20 percent at the nine schools during the 2014-2015 academic year, with 2 percent to 8 percent of female students experiencing the trauma of a completed rape during that time.
  • For undergraduate males, the prevalence rate of completed sexual assaults ranged from about 1 percent to 6 percent during the 2014-2015 academic year.
  • Over the course of their time in college, 13 percent to 51 percent of females in their fourth year had been a victim of sexual battery or rape.  Females, younger students and lesbian, gay and bisexual students were most at risk.  Transgender students were also among those most at risk for sexual assault. Since entering college, the prevalence rate of sexual assault for transgendered persons at all nine school was almost 28 percent.

The CCSVS report demonstrates that schools can successfully conduct a valid and reliable campus climate survey to measure the prevalence of sexual assault among their students and gauge student perceptions of the campus environment.  The report provides a set of best practices – including an updated survey – to assist schools and researchers in the design and implementation of climate surveys.

Sadly, the report also documents the harmful impact of sexual assault, and in particular rape, on students’ lives, from problems with schoolwork and relationships to thoughts of transferring or dropping out of school.  This makes it all the more crucial for schools to address sexual assault.  Schools want their students to succeed, but it is evident that sexual assault takes a serious toll on academic enrollment, performance and coursework. 

Incoming first-year female students were at the highest risk for sexual assault in the first few months of the academic year compared to older students and other times of the year.  Particularly striking were the number of sexual assaults that occurred in August, given that the school year tends to start late in that month.  This shows the need to reach incoming students with sexual assault prevention messages before they ever set foot on campus.  Consistent with other studies, and Clery Act reports, very few sexual assaults were reported to any official – just 4 percent of rapes were reported to law enforcement and a mere 7 percent were reported to any school official.  These statistics are disturbing and emphasize the importance of connecting survivors with the support they need.  It is important to note, however, that the vast majority of victims in the study did tell a roommate, friend or family member about the assault, demonstrating the importance that friends and family members receive training on how to respond to disclosures of sexual assault.

We also know that confidential resources are crucial to enabling survivors to learn about reporting options, protections from retaliation and interim measures available to students, even if they are not ready to make a formal report.  More than 20 percent of victims who didn’t report the assault cited concerns that their report would not be kept confidential, and nearly 30 percent cited fears of retaliation, which is closely connected to concerns about confidentiality.    

In addition, the study found that schools where student respondents had a negative perception of school leadership on sexual assault issues had higher rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault at their school. 

OVW and other components of the department, like the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the Civil Rights Division and the National Institute of Justice, are tackling this problem head-on.  OVW funds colleges and universities to improve their responses to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, and along with OVC and other department components, OVW is exploring ways to help more schools implement quality climate surveys and take action to improve prevention and response efforts based on the results.  BJS and OVW will offer a series of webinars on the CCSVS results and best practices for conducting campus climate surveys.  These will be open to specific audiences and the general public, and information will be posted on the BJS and OVW website.

We can’t solve the problem if we don’t understand it, and each school has different resources, needs, students and experiences.  It is clear that every school must be informed about the prevalence of sexual assault and the perceptions of students to develop campus specific programs to prevent and end sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.  OVW’s Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus Program strengthens the response of institutions of higher education to the crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campuses and enhances collaboration among campuses, local law enforcement and victim advocacy organizations.

In fiscal year 2016, Congress increased the appropriation for OVW’s Campus Grant Program from $12 million to $20 million.  The fiscal year 2016 Campus Grant Program solicitation is open and accepting applications until March 3, 2016.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Courtesy of Daryl Atkinson, Department of Justice Second Chance Fellow

Yesterday I had the privilege of accompanying Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Boston, MA to visit three outstanding reentry programs – the Common Ground Institute (CGI), the Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI), and Community Reentry for Women (C.R.E.W.). To say the trip was surreal would be an understatement because it occurred in the second week of my new role as the U.S. Department of Justice’s first Second Chance Fellow, and 16 years ago I was beginning my own reentry journey after being released from prison. President Obama recently said, “America is a nation of second chances.” For me, yesterday’s trip to Boston was the complete validation of that principle.

Daryl Atkinson, Photo provided courtesy of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department/Photographer David Hill

Photo provided courtesy of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department/Photographer David Hill

The facts are well known. Many people – too many people – face unnecessary obstacles to reentry. In order to successfully reenter society, they must navigate a maze of over 45,000 barriers to employment, housing, and civic participation, which may be triggered as a result of their contact with the criminal justice system. The long-term consequences of a criminal record hamper their ability to contribute to society, even after they have served their time and stand ready to serve their community.  

As we flew back from Boston, I reflected on my reentry journey – particularly the key interventions that made a day like yesterday possible. In hindsight, the most critical component in my successful reentry was a viable support system, a loving family who provided food, clothing, shelter, and nurtured my dreams. Having those immediate physical and emotional needs met gave me the opportunity to pursue higher education and gainful employment. Yesterday, the Attorney General and I heard a similar message from a graduate of BRI who said his support system significantly aided his reentry and allowed him to be an integral part of the solutions to the problems in his community. This young man has remained crime free for 10 years, become gainfully employed at a major university, gotten married and had children, and even become a homeowner.   

Of course, not all of the people with criminal records are blessed with a support system similar to mine and this BRI graduate. But society can facilitate successful reentry by continuing to create secondary support systems with evidence-based reentry programming and public policies that remove obstacles to reintegration, thereby giving formerly incarcerated people a real opportunity at a second chance. As a Second Chance Fellow, I look forward to working with new colleagues in DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance on the Second Chance portfolio which supports programs like BRI.

The Obama Administration, through the Federal Interagency Reentry Council and with the advice and counsel of leaders in the formerly incarcerated community, has made great strides in creating secondary support systems for people with criminal records, particularly through the adoption of public policies that remove barriers and create opportunities to higher education, employment, and housing. For example, in July 2015, the Departments of Education and Justice announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which will allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants to pursue postsecondary education and training. In November 2015, President Obama banned the box for federal employment when he directed the Office of Personal Management to modify its rules to delay inquiries about criminal history until later in the hiring process. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released guidance regarding the use of arrests in determining who can live in HUD-assisted properties. The adoption of these policies is an important step toward removing barriers, creating opportunities, and providing an environment for meaningful second chances for people with criminal records.  In my new role, I look forward to working closely with the Reentry Council to further develop these policies.

Yesterday’s trip to Boston was an excellent harbinger of my role as a DOJ Second Chance Fellow. Attorney General Lynch and I met with various criminal justice stakeholders including formerly and currently incarcerated people to hear directly from them about what they need to be successful after incarceration. While at DOJ, I will continue to solicit and garner the perspectives of people and families directly impacted by incarceration to ensure that their perspectives are considered when developing reentry programs and policies. 

I am hopeful that my work with DOJ will help make access to the American Dream attainable for more people with criminal records.  As one of the participants in BRI said, “I want to start my own business, pay taxes, and make my parents proud.” It will be my job, along with my federal partners at DOJ, to help make his dreams a reality.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

Joining the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden in the box during the State of the Union address Tuesday night was a woman named Sue Ellen Allen.  Sue Ellen served almost seven years in prison for a fraud conviction and struggled through a maze of obstacles to get back on her feet when she was released.  Determined to support others in her situation, she founded Gina’s Team, a reentry service center dedicated to providing women a path out of prison and back into society.  The center is named for her cellmate, who died behind bars.

Sue Ellen’s journey, though unique in its own way, is shared by millions of formerly incarcerated men and women – and by countless more with a criminal record.  More than 600,000 people come out of state and federal prisons every year, and more than 11 million cycle through local jails annually.  One in four Americans has had some sort of contact with the criminal justice system, and they often encounter what must seem like an unending barrage of collateral penalties designed to keep them from returning to society as productive citizens.

Attorney General Lynch, Photo provided courtesy of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department/Photographer David Hill
Attorney General Lynch, Photo provided courtesy of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department/Photographer David Hill

 

The good news is that thanks to a growing number of programs like Gina’s Team, more and more people with criminal histories are able to come back to their communities prepared to make a positive difference.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting three such outstanding programs in Boston as part of the “State of the Union: Cabinet in Your Community” tour: the Common Ground Institute, is a 10-week instructional program designed to enhance employment skills for returning individuals; Community Reentry for Women, or C.R.E.W., which offers life skills instruction, job placement, and health care services to female inmates serving sentences of three months or longer; and the Boston Reentry Initiative, a public safety and service strategy that focuses on high risk inmates who will be returning to Boston neighborhoods.  This last initiative in particular involves a broad range of partners, including the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, the Boston Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, and key service organizations, and an evaluation found that participants were approximately 30 percent less likely to be rearrested.

I met with several participants in these programs – both currently and formerly incarcerated individuals – and I heard them describe how the services they received were critical not only in giving them specific skills and tools, but also in connecting them to people who are in their corner and rooting for them to succeed.  The Boston Reentry Initiative’s director, True-See Allah, summed it up when he said, “I don’t care how much you know, but how much you care.”  Others in the program described the incredible support they have received and how that support has helped motivate them to want a different path.  One participant, now crime-free for eight years after serving a number of jail stints earlier in his life, told us, “You’ve got to want it. . . and you’ve got to be with people who want it for you.”  As he shared these words, he was looking not at me, but at a current participant whose release was days away.

The Department of Justice is dedicated to supporting efforts like these.  Since 2009, we have made more than $400 million in Second Chance Act funds available to programs like the Boston Reentry Initiative to support comprehensive adult and juvenile reentry services.  We have also been working through the Federal Interagency Reentry Council – which I have the privilege of chairing – to reduce policy barriers to successful reentry.  The council and its 23 member agencies continue to make great strides, opening up opportunities in education, job placement, housing, and a host of other areas critical to successful reintegration.  With the help of our new Second Chance Fellow, Daryl Atkinson – himself a formerly incarcerated person and now a prominent legal advocate working to promote effective reentry and justice reform – the council is raising awareness of the importance of reentry strategies that both increase public safety and fulfill our nation’s commitment to the promise of individual redemption.

President Obama has said that “America is a nation of second chances.”  People like Sue Ellen Allen, Daryl Atkinson, True-See Allah, and the many advocates and professionals who run reentry programs across the country are showing us what a second chance can look like: greater opportunity for those eager to make a fresh start, safer and healthier communities for those who welcome them back, and an affirmation of fundamental principles of fairness, dignity, and possibility for all Americans.  As one of the women I met with said, “I want to be on the other side of the table,” referring to where the successful formerly incarcerated members of the group were sitting.  “I’ve got the potential.”  In the days and months ahead, the Department of Justice will continue to support reentry programs that recognize that potential, and that give formerly incarcerated individuals the chance they deserve to return home and succeed.

Friday, January 15, 2016

In fiscal year (FY) 2016, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) changed the working title of the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders (Arrest) Program to the Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Grant (Improving Criminal Justice Responses) Program to more accurately reflect the program’s scope.

The Improving Criminal Justice Responses Program is designed to encourage partnerships between state, local, and tribal governments, courts, victim service providers, coalitions and rape crisis centers, to ensure that sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking are treated as serious violations of criminal law requiring the coordinated involvement of the entire criminal justice system and community-based victim service organizations. The Improving Criminal Justice Responses Program challenges the community to work collaboratively to identify problems, and share ideas that will result in new responses to ensure victim safety and offender accountability.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is excited to announce the release of the FY 2016 Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Grant Program solicitation. All applications are due by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time (E.T.) on Thursday, March 3, 2016.

If you have any questions, please email OVW.Arrest@usdoj.gov or call 202-307-6026 and ask to speak to a member of the ICJR/Arrest Unit.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Department of Justice is proud to announce that we will once again commemorate the start of Sunshine Week with a kickoff event on Monday morning, March 14, 2016. To help us prepare for this event, OIP is seeking nominations for this year’s Sunshine Week FOIA Awards.

Embracing DOJ's declaration that "FOIA is everyone's responsibility," during Sunshine Week 2015 the Department recognized and celebrated the contributions of FOIA professionals with the first Sunshine Week FOIA Awards. At last year's event, the accomplishments of various FOIA professionals were highlighted through awards such as Excellence in Management and Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee. As we prepare for Sunshine Week 2016, and in recognition of the FOIA’s 50th Anniversary, OIP is seeking nominations for two categories of awards for our 2016 Sunshine Week event.

Details on how to submit your nominations for this year’s awards are listed below. Nominations are due to OIP by Friday, February 19th. Awardees will be recognized during the Department’s 2016 Sunshine Week Kickoff Event to be held on Monday, March 14th at 10:00 amFull details for this event will be announced here on FOIA Post in the coming weeks.

The Department's 2009 FOIA Guidelines emphasize the key role of agency FOIA professionals as these individuals are “responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the Act.” The FOIA was signed into law by President Johnson in 1966 and over the last 50 years it has, as President Obama declared, remained “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

The 2016 Sunshine Week Awards are designed to recognize both the vital work of FOIA professionals as well as to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this important law. We look forward to receiving your nominations and seeing you at the event.

 

Department of Justice Sunshine Week FOIA Awards

Submission Guidelines

All agency personnel are eligible for the below awards. This can include Government Information Specialists, supervisors, FOIA attorneys, or FOIA administrative specialists.

We invite nominations for these awards from agencies as well as members of the public. Agency submissions should be made by the agency’s principal FOIA contact, FOIA supervisor, or Chief FOIA Officer.

Nominations must include:

  • The full name, title, agency or organization (if applicable), and contact information for the person submitting the nomination,
  • The name(s) of the individual(s) they are nominating,
  • The award category that best reflects the nominee’s accomplishments,
  • A summary, not to exceed two single-spaced pages, that describes the nominee’s or group’s accomplishments, why the individual or group should receive the award, what they have done that sets them apart, and how their actions benefited FOIA administration, and
  • A short abstract (100 words or less) that briefly outlines the nominee’s accomplishments.

Nominations must be submitted to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “2016 Sunshine Week FOIA Award Nomination” by February 19, 2016.

Award Categories

Award for Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional or Team of FOIA Professionals

Recognizing exemplary performance by a FOIA professional or team of FOIA professionals in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA. This award recognizes those individuals or teams whose exceptional contributions have significantly benefited FOIA administration and implementation of the Department of Justice’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines at their agency. These benefits could include increased efficiency, greater use of technology, reduced backlogs, improved timeliness, and increased proactive disclosures.

Lifetime Service Award

Recognizing an agency FOIA professional with at least 20 years of work in FOIA administration who has demonstrated high standards of excellence and dedication in the administration of the FOIA throughout their career.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason for the Office of Justice Programs and National AMBER Alert Coordinator.

Twenty years ago this week, a nine-year-old Texas girl named Amber Hagerman was out riding her bike when she was snatched away by a stranger in a pick-up truck, raped, and brutally murdered.  It was not the first time a child had been abducted and killed, but the appalling nature of the crime – which remains unsolved – and the public reaction to it ignited a local crusade that became a nationwide movement.  The outcry in the wake of Amber’s death soon resolved into an alert system that has since saved hundreds of children’s lives.

Amber Alert Logo

AMBER Alert began as, and remains at its core, a partnership between law enforcement officials and broadcasters to notify the public when a child is abducted and in danger.  An acronym as well as an eponym, AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.  Its earliest manifestation relied solely on radio announcements to distribute alerts, but the system – in use today in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and areas to the north and south of our nation’s borders – now delivers messages through Department of Transportation signs, cell phone notifications, digital billboards, text alerts, and web and social media posts.

Thanks to its ever-expanding distribution network, AMBER Alert has become a critical public safety tool and a vital resource for protecting America’s young people.  Almost 800 children have been rescued and returned to safety as a result of these emergency notices.  The vast majority were victims of familial abductions, such as the one-year-old girl from Montgomery County, Maryland who in September was taken by her mentally ill father and later recovered.  Others were abducted by strangers, including two Indianapolis siblings who were kidnapped by several suspects during a home invasion early this year and found after a multi-agency task force was mobilized.

AMBER Alert works in great part because law enforcement, broadcasters, transportation agencies, media, and other AMBER distribution partners are swift to react when they receive reports of a child in danger.  It also functions so well thanks to the vigilance of citizens who heed the warnings and notify authorities as soon as they have information that might lead to a recovery.  Any harm that comes to a child is likely to occur in the first few hours after an abduction, so a fast response – from both public safety officials and the public at large – is imperative.  I strongly encourage you to sign up to receive AMBER Alerts directly and join millions of people across the country who are helping to rescue children in danger.  There is no better way to honor the memory of Amber Hagerman and to celebrate the many young lives that have been saved from harm.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

In the Department of Justice’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines, the Attorney General noted that “[o]pen government requires not just a presumption of disclosure but also an effective system for responding to FOIA requests.”  The Guidelines stress that “[e]ach agency must be fully accountable for its administration of the FOIA” and that “effective FOIA administration belongs to all of us.” The Open Government Directive issued by OMB in December of 2009 provides that “[t]he three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.” The Department of Justice recently took an important step in reinforcing these principles through updated employee performance standards.

First page of FOIA/Open Government Performance Standards MemorandumAgency accountability for ensuring open government flows directly from the efforts of the many individuals within agencies who have a role in responding to FOIA requests or overseeing open government policies and activities.  Ensuring that those activities are afforded their proper importance as a key aspect of job performance is an important way to both ensure accountability and to promote open government. As part of the Department of Justice’s own efforts to improve its open government, the Assistant Attorney General for Administration sent a memorandum to the heads of all department components on October 2, 2015, reminding them “of the importance of ensuring compliance with the requirements of the Freedom of lnformation Act (FOIA), and the Open Government Directive by incorporating appropriate performance standards in employee appraisal records and work plans.” To assist components in this effort, OIP worked to develop model performance standards for both open government and FOIA; the standards were distributed with the memorandum. 

There are six model performance standards. Two are for Open Government positions; specifically:

  1. Executive and Supervisory Positions that oversee positions that have responsibility for open government policies, and
  2. Positions that have responsibility for open government policies.

There are four model performance standards for FOIA, the first two addressing personnel who work primarily in FOIA; specifically:

  1. Executive and Supervisory Positions that oversee positions that have primary responsibility for FOIA implementation (e.g., Government Information Specialists)
  2. Positions that have primary responsibility for FOIA implementation (e.g., Government Information Specialists)

Significantly, the Department also included performance standards for those individuals who are not traditional FOIA Professionals, but who are called upon to assist FOIA Professionals in any number of ways during the administration of the Act. Those two standards address:

  1. Professional positions that have responsibilities for certain aspects of the Department's compliance with disclosure obligations, which may include searching for and reviewing records for disclosure, and
  2. Support Positions that provide administrative support to meet goals for timely responses to FOIA requests.

As the memorandum notes:

The Department's performance for responding promptly to FOIA requesters requires the efforts of not only FOIA personnel but also the efforts and cooperation of all non-FOIA personnel who receive, transmit, and review information for disclosure.  Each year the Department receives an increasing number of requests, and employees are called upon to assist in searching for responsive records, providing input for disclosure determinations, and identifying records for proactive disclosure on the Department's website.

Ensuring that employee performance standards and work plans include FOIA and open government elements is a natural complement to the Department’s earlier work in converting all of its FOIA Professionals to the Government Information Specialist job series. That distinct occupational series was created by OPM in 2012 and was designed to recognize and further professionalize the FOIA workforce. Over the last three years, the Department of Justice has converted all of its FOIA Professionals to the new job series.

As the number of FOIA requests received across the government continues to rise, all agencies are encouraged to include appropriate FOIA- and Open Government-Related performance standards for all employees who have any role in administering these key programs. By doing so, they can help ensure that the principle that “FOIA is everyone’s responsibility” will be fully recognized.    

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

During 2015, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) partnered with many states to enforce our nation’s pollution laws and prosecute traffickers in protected wildlife and illegally harvested timber, as well as to defend challenges to critical infrastructure projects.

For example, 14 states have received a combined total of nearly $8.4 million in civil penalties from joint environmental enforcement cases with the federal government.  In addition, many of the communities surrounding the facilities responsible for violations will benefit from environmental mitigation or supplemental environmental projects funded by the defendants.  In 2015, such projects directed $1 million to the state of New York in a joint case.  And joint enforcement of claims for natural resources damages resulted in an overall recovery to states of over $45 million.

The cases described represent but a few examples of cooperative federalism in environmental enforcement, which is a top priority for ENRD.  I also named senior ENRD lawyer Andrea Berlowe as my Counselor for State and Local Matters, a position designed to facilitate joint efforts by the division and its environmental partners in state and local governments.  The partnerships we have forged with state and local governments in a variety of contexts are critical to achieving ENRD’s mission on behalf of the American people.

Specifically, this year ENRD and the state of Arkansas settled claims against ExxonMobil Pipeline Company and Mobil Pipe Line Company over an oil spill from the Pegasus pipeline, which transports Canadian heavy crude oil, in Mayflower, Arkansas.  The pipeline ruptured, spilling oil directly into a residential neighborhood, then into nearby waterways, including a creek, wetlands and Lake Conway, a tributary of the Arkansas River.  Residents of 22 homes were forced to evacuate due to the hazardous conditions in the neighborhood and most people never moved back.  The United States brought claims for civil penalties and injunctive relief under the Clean Water Act; the state of Arkansas joined our claims and brought additional claims under state law.  Under the agreement, ExxonMobil paid the United States a civil penalty of $3.19 million and will take measures to help prevent and minimize future spills.  The company also paid the state a $1 million penalty and $280,000 in litigation costs, and must perform one or more state supplemental environmental projects valued at $600,000.

We also partnered with the state of Colorado to address Clean Air Act violations by Noble Energy Inc. at its natural gas production operation in the Denver-Julesburg Basin north of Denver, an area that fails to attain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground level ozone.  At issue were emissions of vapors from hydrocarbon liquids, which contain volatile organic compounds, methane and hazardous air pollutants such as benzene.  EPA and Colorado inspectors observed emissions from storage tanks using state-of-the-art optical imaging and thermal infrared cameras.  Under the terms of the agreement, Noble will pay penalties, conduct an engineering evaluation of vapor systems, undertake corrective actions as needed and verify the adequacy of the actions at over 3,400 tank batteries.  Noble also will retain a third party to audit the performance of this work and install next-generation pressure monitoring on tank batteries.  The total value of the civil penalty split between the United States and the state of Colorado, plus mitigation and Supplemental Environmental Projects, was nearly $9 million.

On the defensive side, the division worked closely with state partners in defending numerous important infrastructure projects.  Those efforts were successful in facilitating the replacement of the aging Bonner Bridge on the North Carolina coast, the upgrading and maintenance of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel for rail transportation in Washington, D.C., the expansion of U.S. Route 431 in Eufala, Alabama, and the Monroe Bypass near Charlotte, North Carolina.

The past year also marked continuing cooperation with states in the division’s criminal prosecutions.  This ranged from providing training to state partners to close coordination in wildlife and pollution investigations.  Prosecutors from ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section (ECS) presented at several events where state investigators learned of opportunities and methods for developing wildlife and environmental crimes cases, either in concert with federal counterparts or independently.

Our state connections also were vital to achieving successful outcomes in several criminal prosecutions.  For example, United States v. Baravik involved illegal trafficking in paddlefish eggs, a highly valuable caviar substitute poached on a large scale from Missouri waterways.  Baravik was convicted at trial for his role in the illegal trade of $30,000-$50,000 worth of paddlefish eggs.  His case was a joint effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation officers from both the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Oklahoma Department of Conservation.

In addition to working directly with our state partners, the criminal penalties sought by ENRD prosecutors can directly mitigate damage when pollution or wildlife crimes lead to harm to state lands, resources or waterways.  As in the civil context, such cases may include restitution or mitigation to states, in addition to other penalties.

For instance, the outcome of United States v. Harbor House Seafood, a case involving the illegal harvest of oysters from the Delaware Bay, led to $140,000 in restitution to the state of New Jersey for loss of that state’s seafood resources.  Likewise, in United States v. Michael Hayden, the court ordered a trafficker in illegally harvested striped bass to pay nearly $500,000 in restitution to the state of Maryland for the damage he did to Maryland’s seafood resources.

Finally, through a criminal plea agreement in United States v. Duke Energy Corporation, the long term damage caused by criminally negligent maintenance of coal ash basins was addressed through $10 million an authorized wetlands mitigation bank for the purchase of wetlands or riparian lands to offset the long-term environmental impacts to the states were those basins are located.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Twenty-five years ago, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities.  As the momentous 25th anniversary year of the ADA draws to a close, the Department is reflecting on what this seminal civil rights law means to people with disabilities, acknowledging the progress the department has helped to make possible and looking forward to the work ahead.

As Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch observed in her remarks commemorating the ADA’s 25th anniversary, “By prohibiting discrimination and ensuring opportunity, the ADA has opened doors and brought dreams within reach.”  Indeed, the true power and promise of the ADA lies in its ability to empower individuals with disabilities to dream bigger, and to enable them to pursue their own visions of the American dream.

The Department of Justice is proud to stand with individuals with disabilities to ensure that the ADA’s promise becomes a reality.  The department will continue to use the broad array of tools at its disposal – including technical assistance, regulation development, mediation, investigation, litigation and statements of interest – to aggressively pursue the goals of the ADA.

Over this anniversary year, the Department of Justice has worked diligently to advance the four goals set forth in the ADA – equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities – in a wide variety of contexts, including civic access, employment, education, integration, health care and recreation.

For example, through our technical assistance on the rights of parents with disabilities, the Justice Department made clear that people with disabilities are entitled to an equal opportunity to form families, become parents and raise their children without interference based on outdated stereotypes and incorrect assumptions about their abilities to parent.  And the department has continued to work to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to access quality education, including educational opportunities that are available online and educational opportunities in integrated settings alongside their non-disabled peers. 

The Department of Justice has fought for the rights of children like Brahm and Jayla to fully participate in all of the activities that make up a quintessential American childhood, such as going to the playground, playing sports and going to summer camp.  The department has also advanced the rights of individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the most fundamental civic activity – voting.

Through our 218 Project Civic Access agreements, including 15 new agreements this year alone, the Justice Department helps to ensure that people with disabilities are able to participate fully and independently in community life.  We also advance the goal of independent living through our Olmstead enforcement work, which helps people with disabilities have the opportunity to live and work in integrated settings in their communities and remains a high priority for the department.

Finally, we are furthering the goal of economic self-sufficiency by making clear that state and local government employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.  In 2015, the Department of Justice entered into numerous settlement agreements and consent decrees obtaining relief for people with disabilities like Mr. Gomillia, who was fired from his job as a correctional officer after he disclosed that he used to have diabetes.  In addition to resolving individual complaints of employment discrimination, the department has entered into several agreements with public entities requiring them to revise their job applications and employment websites to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to compete for government jobs.

Though our country has certainly come a long way towards achieving equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities over the 25 years since the ADA was enacted, the department recognizes that our work is not yet done.  As the head of the Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, clearly stated in her remarks on the ADA’s anniversary, “We will not stop until every child with a disability can dream the same dreams as children without disabilities – and follow those dreams to reality.  Until every person with a disability can pursue a life of work, family, community and civic participation.  And until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question.”  The department will not rest until, to paraphrase President George H.W. Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony, every last shameful wall of exclusion for persons with disabilities finally comes tumbling down.

For more information about the ADA, call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or access the ADA website at www.ada.gov.  You can file an ADA complaint online at www.ada.gov/complaint/.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

The Justice Department’s gender bias policing guidance, announced by Attorney General Lynch earlier this week, marks a critical step in our ongoing efforts to help state and local law enforcement agencies across the country implement clear policies, comprehensive training and effective supervision measures to more effectively protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  The guidance highlights our commitment to advancing a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach in response to these heinous crimes.  And it represents the impact of collaborative partnerships with key stakeholders to advance meaningful reform developed through robust community input and engagement.

The guidance, “Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence,” provides a set of basic principles to ensure that gender bias, either explicitly or implicitly, does not undermine law enforcement efforts to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable.

In developing this guidance, the Justice Department relied on lessons learned from our work with police departments in Missoula, MontanaNew Orleans and Puerto Rico.  Following our investigations into – and settlement agreements with – these departments, law enforcement leaders and civil rights advocates alike sought additional guidance to address the role of gender bias in policing.  So we responded, meeting with a wide array of stakeholders in recent years to better understand how the Department of Justice can provide the most effective assistance to support our state and local law enforcement partners.  In many ways, this guidance reflects the product of these engagement and outreach efforts.

Through our partnerships with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, we see the desire to improve responses to allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence.  And we will continue to invest in partnerships with the police leaders, line officers and detectives committed to reducing the impact of bias on policing, dedicated to strengthening the safety of their communities and determined to uphold the civil rights of all citizens.

This week, I spoke with law enforcement leaders from across the country who emphasized how their colleagues and fellow officers stand eager and ready to begin implementing the key principles outlined in our guidance.

As Terry Cunningham, President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), explained: “The newly released DOJ guidance will help law enforcement leadership strengthen and institutionalize effective, bias free policing practices as they respond to and investigate crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence.  Without doubt, this guidance will enhance police capacity to respond proactively to these crimes of violence against women and hold perpetrators accountable.  More broadly, incorporating this guidance will also help law enforcement establish meaningful change to build more trusting relationships with their communities.”

The Department of Justice has a vital role to play in combating sexual assault and domestic violence, but real and lasting change must take shape at the local level.  Sustainable reform works best when it is informed by police officers who walk the streets each day, by the experiences of victims who have suffered these crimes firsthand and by community leaders who have the courage to lead challenging conversations.

The complexity of causes that lead to sexual assault and domestic violence – and the wide-ranging, lingering effects they leave not only on individuals, but also on families and entire communities – require that we advance effective reforms through a spirit of collegiality and cooperation with our dedicated law enforcement partners.

Though the work ahead will not be easy, I remain confident that, as we demonstrated with this week’s guidance, together we will continue to make tangible strides of progress.  And together, we will continue our steadfast efforts to protect our most vulnerable citizens from harm.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coping With the Holidays After the Death of a Loved One or When You Are a Victim/Crime Survivor

Courtesy of Marilyn McCoy Roberts, Office for Victims of Crime, Deputy Director

As we enter the holiday season, I want to make you aware of OVC resources that support those who have been victims of crime. If you or someone you know is anxious about the upcoming holidays, please refer to OVC’s Coping with the Holidays e-publication. Here, we have compiled some online resources and suggestions from survivors on how to make the best of the holiday season.

The first time celebrating a holiday after the death of a loved one may be a particularly difficult experience. When a member of the family is no longer there to share a cherished tradition, the holiday can become a painful reminder instead of a time of joy. Through the holiday season, victims of crimes, family members, friends, and colleagues may re-experience life-changing traumas through flashbacks, nightmares, and overwhelming sadness. The holidays may bring new or returning bouts of depression, panic attacks, feelings of displacement, and other forms of anxiety for individuals who have been affected by tragedy.  Grief may become even more intense.

Though there are no rules to follow regarding how to “get through” a holiday, the Coping with the Holidays resource provides a number of suggestions from survivors on how to manage grief at this time of year. Suggestions we have highlighted include creating a special tribute, balancing solitude with sociability, reliving happy memories, finding a creative outlet, and protecting your health. In addition, this BJA-sponsored resource developed by MADD provides further suggestions for coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays.

I hope these resources provide you with support during the holiday season.

About the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)

OVC is committed to enhancing the Nation’s capacity to assist crime victims and to providing leadership in changing attitudes, policies, and practices to promote justice and healing for all victims of crime.

This post can also be found on the OJP Blog.

 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of joining the State Department and the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) to discuss the important work the Department of Justice is doing on issues of drug safety.

For the past three-and-a-half years, first as the head of the Civil Division and now as the department’s Acting Associate Attorney General, I have overseen much of the department’s work related to ensuring that the food that Americans eat and the medicines that we take are safe.  Adulterated or misbranded drugs represent an invisible hazard, and American consumers need our help to keep them safe.  Indeed, as we at the department pursue our core mission of protecting the public, we take drug safety no less seriously than any other risk to the American people. 

And experience has shown that illegitimate online pharmacies can create several types of dangers.  They may dispense the wrong drug – one that will not work for the patient’s needs – or drugs that contain harmful contaminants.  And even where the product is what a doctor has actually prescribed, it may lack the active ingredient, be expired or degraded by improper storage, or be delivered without dosage warnings or directions.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a robust safety regime for good reason, and circumventing its process may result in serious harm, both to those directly affected and, by undermining confidence in the medical system, to the public at large.

That is why the enforcement work of the department and its partners, including those at the State Department and CSIP, is so important.  The department has held accountable a number of actors who have furnished drugs to consumers through illicit online pharmacies – from pharmacists who enable such operations to companies that deliver goods unlawfully.  We will continue to hold accountable those who violate federal law and put at risk the health and safety of American consumers.

The department’s prosecutions and enforcement actions help to educate consumers by bringing to light facts that illustrate the dangers that illegitimate online pharmacies pose.  When the protections provided by the FDA’s system are subverted and medication is adulterated or misbranded, patients may suffer real harm.

The investigation and prosecution of Canadian online pharmacy operator Andrew Strempler, whose company operated at RxNorth.com, provides just one example.  Strempler falsely represented that RxNorth was selling safe prescription drugs in compliance with regulations in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.  However, Strempler obtained the prescription drugs from various other source countries without properly ensuring the safety or authenticity of the drugs, and in fact, some of the drugs sold by Strempler included counterfeit drugs. 

The department also prosecuted Richard Taylor, an English citizen who pleaded guilty to distributing adulterated prescription drugs used for cancer treatment.  To be safe and effective, some of the prescription drugs distributed by Taylor needed to be shipped and stored at constant cold temperatures.  While distributing these prescription drugs, Taylor learned that multiple doctors in the United States had received shipments of “cold chain” cancer prescription drugs that were warm upon arrival and damaged during shipment, but still kept shipping adulterated drugs to the United States. 

Taylor was also involved in importing counterfeit Altuzan, an intravenous cancer treatment drug marketed in Turkey that contains the same active ingredient as the drug marketed in the United States as Avastin.  He was notified that an oncology nurse of a U.S. doctor reported that two patients had “immediate bad reactions” during infusions of the drug.  One of these patients who had “been on Avastin for a while started to shake in the middle of being transfused and had to be disconnected from treatment.”  The nurse advised that she had been administering Avastin for years and never had a patient reaction like this before.   

The Department of Justice is committed to continuing to use all of the criminal and civil enforcement tools at our disposal to produce cases like these.  But enforcement alone is not the answer.  That is why I was so grateful for the chance to speak with our partners from the federal government and industry in this effort.  Engagement and dialogue between government and industry is critical, and collaboration with industry is a key component of the department’s efforts to prevent future incidents.  When the goal is ensuring that Americans can trust the prescription drugs they obtain online, government and industry are on the same side. 

In October, Attorney General Lynch announced the launch of the department’s new collaborative strategy to more closely partner with businesses in intellectual property enforcement efforts.  As part of the strategy, the FBI will partner with third-party marketplaces to ensure they have the right analytical tools and techniques to combat intellectual property concerns on their websites.  Furthermore, in an effort to mitigate instances of the manufacture, distribution, advertising, and sale of counterfeit products, including pharmaceutical drugs, the FBI will serve as a bridge between brand owners and third-party marketplaces.  The new strategy will enable law enforcement and companies to better identify, prioritize and disrupt the manufacturing, distribution, advertising and sale of counterfeit products.  Once crimes have been identified, they will be investigated by the FBI and other partners of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and prosecuted by the Department of Justice. 

I’m confident that when the government and industry work together on this common cause, we can have a real impact on the health and safety of the American public. 

Topic(s):
Consumer Protection
Thursday, December 3, 2015

Twenty-five years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was signed into law - an historic moment in our nation’s long fought effort to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. Two years later, in 1992, the United Nations established the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to increase awareness and promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

Disability affects, or will affect nearly all of us.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 or approximately 56.7 million people in the United States have a disability. Research shows that women with disabilities and Deaf women are more likely to experience violence and abuse than women without disabilities, and individuals with disabilities are more likely to experience violence and abuse for a longer duration and by a greater number of perpetrators. Unfortunately, we also know that individuals with disabilities and Deaf individuals experience multiple barriers to service.

On this day, the Office on Violence Against Women reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that survivors of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking who have disabilities can access services – barrier free.

As we mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA and International Day of Persons with Disabilities, OVW is excited to highlight a new tool developed by the Vera Institute of Justice, an OVW Technical Assistance provider. Last month, VERA’s Center on Victimization and Safety released five implementation guides that use performance indicators to help disability organizations and programs that address domestic and sexual violence track their progress in serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence who have disabilities. Step-by-step guides have been created to help service providers implement this tool in each of the following types of organizations:

  • Disability organizations

  • Rape crisis centers

  • Dual domestic violence/sexual assault organizations

  • Residential domestic violence programs

  • Non-residential domestic violence programs

This tool provides organizations with a practical way to measure capacity for serving survivors with disabilities, and to help organizations track progress toward specific goals and refine capacity-building efforts to better meet those goals.

On December 14, 2015, Vera is hosting a webinar on the new performance indicators tool and will provide an overview of the performance indicators system and practical tips for using it in your organization.

For more information and resources, visit End Abuse of People with Disabilities.

As we reflect on the progress made over the past twenty-five years, we must not forget that much work remains ahead of us.  We know that in order to address the complex needs of individuals with disabilities and Deaf individuals experiencing violence, we must promote systemic change. We must build a community of support that is accessible to survivors with disabilities and Deaf survivors, and one that understands the unique dynamics of both violence against women and disability. Survivors with disabilities and Deaf survivors need to be met with a consistent, accessible and appropriate response regardless of where they seek help.

As President Obama reminds us, “[o]ur pursuit of equal rights for those with disabilities is not over.  Today, we stand on the shoulders of generations who fought for better laws, demanded better treatment, and who, by being good, decent people and hard workers, proved to the world that having a disability should not force individuals into the margins of society.”

 

Full text of the 2015 International Day of Persons with Disabilities Proclamation

For 24-hour help or support, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Courtesy of Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates

There is no principle underlying our criminal justice system more essential than that we must treat equally the wealthy and the poor.  As former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy said in 1962, “If justice is priced in the market place, individual liberty will be curtailed and respect for law diminished.”

To the vast majority of Americans, this concept is a given; it’s innate to being American.  This country banned debtors’ prisons under federal law back in 1833.  In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a maximum prison term could not be extended because a defendant failed to pay court costs or fines.  A year later, those same justices ruled that a defendant may not be jailed solely because he or she is too poor to pay a fine.  Again, in 1983, in a case called Bearden v. Georgia, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Constitution does not permit “punishing a person for his poverty.” 

Despite these longstanding ideals and principles, in some places around our country, fines are still being imposed and people are still being incarcerated for nonpayment without a judge ever making the basic required inquiry — “Can this person afford to pay?”  In these places, court fines, fees and other financial obligations can lead to unnecessary incarceration, trap people in a cycle of poverty, and undermine the faith in the justice system that is so critical to public safety. 

Take for example the city of Ferguson, Missouri.  The Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department found that Ferguson’s courts imposed excessive fines and routinely ordered the arrest of low-income residents when they failed to make payments they could not afford.  For example, a 67-year-old woman living on a fixed income was taken to jail for missed payments related to a trash-removal citation.  The court imposed fines totaling $1,000, which she struggled to pay in $100 monthly installments. 

In a city of 21,000, Ferguson’s courts issued arrest warrants for over 9,000 people in 2013 alone, almost entirely on cases stemming from low-level offenses.  When people were arrested, they routinely sat in jail because bond was set with no regard to their financial situation.  The Civil Rights Division’s investigation found that these harms were borne disproportionately by the city’s African-American community.

Unfortunately, these troubling dynamics aren’t unique to Ferguson.  In Georgia – where I served as U.S. Attorney – the state had a system in which people were being fined for low-level misdemeanor offenses such as traffic violations or public nuisance citations.  Due to a law passed in 2000, private probation companies supervised these people and set monthly or weekly payment amounts that were much higher than necessary to collect funds owed during their probationary term.  In some cases, probationers were expected to pay all court fines and surcharges, as well as provider supervision fees, in less than half of the term.  Many of these private probation providers failed to consider whether probationers had the ability to meet their financial obligations.  And some of these private companies would unlawfully extend the probation term, improperly allocate probationer payments to themselves instead of the court, or obtain arrest warrants for failure to pay.  One can see how this system was not only unfair, but could easily trap low-income individuals into a cycle of poverty through the series of cascading events they set in motion. 

Thanks to the leadership of judges and elected officials in Georgia, the state produced a comprehensive report of recommendations and then enacted reforms into law to address the state’s problematic misdemeanor private probation system.  There is still a lot of work to be done, but their progress is inspiring. 

The issues raised by the practices in Missouri, Georgia and other areas of our country are why the Justice Department today convened a meeting of advocates, researchers and criminal justice practitioners to discuss avenues for more equitable alternatives to these problematic systems for fines, fees and fixed bail.  State officials, judges, and many others shared their ideas for creating a system driven not by profit, but by a commitment to fair and constitutional practices.  The conversation will continue tomorrow at the White House, where the Attorney General, other administration officials and leaders in the field will deliberate over ways to disentangle incarceration from poverty. 

The Justice Department will publish a report based on the proceedings from the meeting, recommending steps that practitioners, policymakers and legislators can take to ensure that our criminal justice system is working to protect public safety and ensures equal justice under the law.  Meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Office of Access to Justice have been working to identify and reform inequities in state and local bail systems where they find them.

These efforts will help ensure that we live up to the promise of ensuring our justice system is fair to all segments of society.  Those are the principles we have been given by our forefathers, and it is one that we continually strive to deliver to the American people.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division


“The Department of Justice is firmly committed to eradicating discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.  Such discrimination compromises our defining values, violates our founding ideals, and has a profound and deeply unfair impact on individuals who need and deserve our support.  That is why the Department of Justice is using every tool at our disposal and working collaboratively with partners across the federal government to make the ADA’s promise of equal access and equal treatment a reality for all Americans.”

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch


For the roughly one million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, painful stigma and discrimination continue to permeate their daily lives.  As citizens and countries around the world come together in observance of World AIDS Day, it signifies a critical opportunity for each of us – public officials and private citizens alike – to celebrate the advances that allow people with HIV to live long and productive lives, to solidify our support for those living with HIV and to renew our fight against the spread of unfounded stereotypes and misinformation about this disease.

In the 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Justice Department has vigorously enforced this landmark legislation to protect and advance the right of people with HIV to live free from discrimination.

Earlier this year, the department reached meaningful settlements with a healthcare system in Ohio, as well as a dental care company and a hospital in Pennsylvania, resolving allegations that they had denied care to patients because they have HIV.  In each case, our agreements led to enhanced training, new policies and clear protocols that create sustainable safeguards against discrimination.  In May, we sued a New York plastic surgery center to remedy the discriminatory denial of service to a patient because of HIV, and the case is currently pending in federal court.

Our enforcement efforts have also extended into educational settings.  When a vocational education and career training provider in Louisiana withdrew a conditional acceptance offer after learning that a nursing program applicant had HIV, we reached a court-monitored agreement that requires the college to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, cease asking applicants about their HIV status, train staff on ADA requirements and pay $35,000 in damages.

Beyond our enforcement work, we continue to provide technical assistance to businesses, public employers and people living with HIV/AIDS on their rights and responsibilities under the ADA.  In September, the department published a plain language pamphlet explaining the legal requirements imposed by the ADA on public and private entities that employ or serve people with HIV/AIDS.  We also regularly host training events, conduct outreach with AIDS Service Organizations and respond to questions from individuals and covered entities through our ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

Additionally, following the administration’s release of an updated national HIV/AIDS strategy in July, today the White House published a new federal implementation plan that highlights the role of the Justice Department in coordinating inter-agency efforts to eradicate stigma and combat discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS through enforcement, technical assistance and outreach.

Despite the strides of our progress, however, we must remain ever vigilant of the pressing and urgent work that remains.  Today, as we remember those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS across the globe, let us renew our efforts to honor their legacies by replacing ignorance with awareness and by replacing discrimination with tolerance.  Let us not rest until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question; and until – to quote President Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony – every last “shameful wall of exclusion finally come[s] tumbling down.”  We must rise to this challenge and answer this call to service as one people, driven to make the promising ideals of justice a tangible reality for all Americans. 

To learn more about the department’s work, or to file a complaint of HIV or AIDS-related discrimination, please visit www.ada.gov/aids

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Twenty-five years ago, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month, the Department of Justice is highlighting efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the story of a child named Brahm and how the Department of Justice’s work enforcing the ADA is improving full and equal access to youth athletics in Colorado.  Participating in athletic competition is a formative experience for children across this country, and children with disabilities are entitled to participate equally in youth sports.

Brahm at a Wrestling Tournament

Nine-year-old Brahm has bone dysplasia, also known as dwarfism, which makes him smaller and lighter than other children his age.  In the fall of 2013, when he was seven years old and weighed approximately 34 pounds, Brahm joined a wrestling club in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  His doctor had cleared him to wrestle children of a similar weight.  Wrestling tournaments were run by Pikes Peak Wrestling League (PPWL), a youth wrestling league that serves approximately 4,000 children across the state of Colorado.  Initially, for the regular season tournaments, PPWL allowed Brahm to wrestle in the six and under age division, even though he was seven years old, so that he could wrestle with children of a similar weight.  Brahm’s parents explained that Brahm has a disability, dwarfism, and it would be unsafe for him to wrestle children in the eight and under division weighing up to 45 pounds.  When it came to the State Wrestling Championship, however, PPWL refused to allow Brahm to compete in the six and under division.  Consequently, Brahm left the tournament and did not compete.

The United States recently reached a settlement agreement with PPWL that will ensure that, in the future, children with disabilities like Brahm will not be excluded from PPWL’s events.  Under the agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, PPWL will adopt and publicize a disability nondiscrimination policy, including procedures for handling requests to modify policies for wrestlers with disabilities.  PPWL will also train employees on ADA requirements and invite coaches affiliated with PPWL and USA Wrestling Directors to attend this training, free of charge.  In addition, PPWL will pay compensatory damages to Brahm and report to the department on its compliance with the agreement.

Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations, including youth sports leagues like PPWL, to reasonably modify their policies, practices or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations to individuals with disabilities and when such modifications would not fundamentally alter the nature of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations.  For more information about the ADA, call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or access the ADA website at www.ada.gov.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaints@usdoj.gov.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division

Today, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Department of Justice honors the courage and the memory of victims of anti-transgender discrimination and violence.  As Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch observed earlier this week, “During this Transgender Awareness Week… which sadly commemorates lives that have been lost to anti-transgender violence – we recommit ourselves to the principles” that all transgender individuals are deserving of basic respect, equal treatment and the right to “live their lives safely and with support.”

Transgender individuals – people whose gender identity or internal sense of being male or female is different from the gender marker assigned to them at birth – face enormous obstacles.  According to a 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, discrimination against transgender individuals is pervasive.  According to that survey, 63 percent of respondents said they had experienced a serious act of discrimination that had a major impact on their quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally.  The survey further found that transgender individuals are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty than the general population, and 41 percent reported attempting suicide.  They are also too often the target of violent crime, including murder.  Importantly, the survey also found that transgender individuals of color fared worse than their white counterparts across the board.

In recent years, the department has worked aggressively to use all the tools at our disposal to address violence and discrimination against transgender individuals.  For example, in the Civil Rights Division, under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, we can investigate and prosecute gender-identity motivated violence.  We continue to engage in proactive outreach to the transgender community to encourage individuals to seek help from law enforcement when they believe a hate crime has taken place, and have helped train thousands of law enforcement officers on the new law and on the importance of responding to victims of anti-transgender violence.  In situations where violence has occurred, the Community Relations Service has worked with the communities affected by that violence to build bridges – by facilitating communication and building trust – with the goal of preventing future violence.

Further, all across the department we have been working, often in close partnership with other federal agencies, to end all forms of discrimination, including harassment, based on gender identity, transgender status and nonconformity with gender stereotypes.  While the Shepard-Byrd Act may be the only federal statute that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the department has taken the position that federal prohibitions against sex discrimination in employment and education encompass discrimination against transgender individuals.  This year alone the Civil Rights Division has filed a number of briefs on behalf of transgender students and individuals who have been subjected to harassment and denied equal treatment and employment opportunity. 

Despite the considerable work that has been done, we fully recognize that there is still much more that is still needed to break the cycle of discrimination and violence that affects far too many transgender individuals.  That is why in the upcoming weeks I, along with my colleagues from across the department, will be meeting with a number of transgender advocates and civil rights groups to learn more about the challenges faced by this community and to hear suggestions about additional steps the department can take to more effectively address anti-transgender discrimination and violence.  I look forward to this and many other conversations about this important issue, and to working towards a country where no one is harassed, discriminated against or suffers harm and violence because of who they are, who they love or what they look like. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is pleased to announce that for the seventh consecutive year, it is seeking applications for funding to improve public safety and victim services in tribal communities through the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS).   DOJ launched the CTAS in fiscal year (FY) 2010, and since that time, federally-recognized tribes and tribal consortia are able to submit a single application for most of the Justice Department’s tribal grant programs.

Through CTAS Purpose Area  #5, the Office on Violence Against Women’s Tribal Governments Program accepts applications to enhance the ability of tribes to respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking in Indian Country, enhance victim safety, and develop education and prevention strategies.

DOJ designed CTAS as a comprehensive approach to save time and resources and allow tribes and the Department to gain a better understanding of the Tribes’ overall criminal justice and public safety needs.

Since FY 2010, more than 1,400 grants totaling more than $620 million have been awarded to enhance law enforcement practices, victim services and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts in nine purpose areas:

  • Public safety and community policing (COPS Office)
  • Comprehensive Tribal Justice Systems Strategic Planning (BJA, OJJDP, OVC, COPS Office, OVW)
  • Justice systems and alcohol and substance abuse (BJA)
  • Corrections and correctional alternatives (BJA)
  • Violence Against Women Tribal Governments program (OVW)
  • Children’s Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities (OVC)
  • Comprehensive Tribal Victim Assistance program (OVC)
  • Juvenile Healing to Wellness Courts (OJJDP)
  • Tribal Youth Program (OJJDP)

Applications for the FY 2016 CTAS funding announcement are due at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time Tuesday, February 23, 2016. For additional information about CTAS FY 2016 visit http://www.justice.gov/tribal/open-solicitations

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Update: This post, originally published July 28, 2015, has been updated with new date information regarding the workshop on Self-Assessments and Internal Reviews.

As a part of the United States’ Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to further modernize FOIA, in 2014 OIP launched the Best Practices Workshop series as a way to share and leverage successes in FOIA administration across the government. Today we are announcing details for the second slate of topics and workshops in this series.

Each workshop in the series focuses on a specific topical area and will include a panel of representatives that will share their success stories and strategies. For example, some of the topics covered in the first series of workshops included panels on reducing backlogs, proactive disclosures, and implementing technology in FOIA administration. The new workshop topics were selected based on feedback solicited from both federal agencies and the public. This series continues to be an opportunity for professionals at every level of the FOIA process to learn from one another and to leverage the successes of other agencies for their own organizations.

The workshops are open to all agency FOIA professionals and interested personnel. We will also continue to invite representatives from civil society and the public to participate in certain workshops. The dates, locations, and topics for each workshop are:

Best Practices for Small Agencies
August 26, 2015, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Reducing Backlogs and Improving Timeliness
December 8, 2015, 10:00 am to 12 noon – Robert F. Kennedy Building

Self-Assessments and Internal Reviews
January 27, 2016, 2:40 pm to 3:40 pm - NEW DATE AND TIME

Best Practices from the Requester’s Perspective
March 16, 2016, 10:00 am to 12 noon

FOIA Training Programs
May 25, 2016, 10:00 am to 12 noon

All workshops unless otherwise indicated will be held at the Department of Justice’s Conference Center near 1st and N Street NE. Registration for all workshops is required for attendance and you will need a picture ID to enter the designated Department facility for any of these workshops.

The August, October, December, and May workshops will feature different panels of agency representatives. The March workshop will feature a panel of civil society and requester community representatives to highlight some of the agency best practices they have experienced while working through the FOIA process.

After each event, the best practices discussed by the panel, as well as other resources, will be added to the Best Practices Workshop Series page of our website as a resource for all agencies and interested individuals. Information, best practices, and resources from the first slate of workshops is also available on this page as well.

If you are interested in attending any of these events, you can register by emailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “[Month] Best Practices Workshop.” If registering multiple individuals, please include the email addresses of all registrants. If you have any questions regarding the series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

As we hold these workshops, we continue to invite your suggestions on future meeting topics and potential panelists.  If you would like to participate as a panelist or recommend someone for any of the above scheduled workshops, please email us at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Best Practices Workshop Suggestion.”

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is beginning its second biennial conferral with stakeholders, and we want you to be part of it.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 establishes a conferral process to ensure OVW is informed by State and tribal coalitions, OVW technical assistance (TA) providers, and other key stakeholders in the field. Thus, the conferral process will emphasize feedback from these coalitions and TA providers, as well as crucial stakeholders such as STOP and SASP Administrators and grantees of other OVW programs. Tribal governments also have an annual consultation with OVW and provide input on VAWA programs, which will be included in OVW’s conferral report. This message constitutes initiation of the second conferral process.

The statutory areas of conferral are:

  • the administration of grants;
  • unmet needs;
  • promising practices in the field; and
  • emerging trends.

OVW initiated the 2013/2014 conferral process on September 6, 2013, held the first conferral session on September 24, 2013 and held the final conferral session on November 4, 2015.  OVW’s 2013/2014 conferral process was very broad and included approximately 20 conferral sessions. The OVW 2015/2016 conferral process will be more targeted and will focus on the statutorily-mandated conferral topics.  In the future, OVW may select specific discretionary grant programs for discussion.

Due to the continued emphasis on limiting conferences and travel expenditures, OVW will host most conferrals through a conference call and/or webinar process.  To save money while maximizing input from key stakeholders, OVW will also convene in-person conferral sessions at preexisting meetings.

To gather feedback from a wide range of key stakeholders, OVW will host a mix of invitation-only meetings and calls/webinars and sessions open to the general public.

Each conferral session – both in-person and virtual – will request feedback on the four statutory topic areas (administration of grants, unmet needs, promising practices in the field, and emerging trends), as well as any other issues raised by participating individuals. The conferral sessions will be structured as listening sessions, although OVW staff may answer questions if answers can be quickly and readily provided.

The conferral sessions will primarily occur during the spring and early fall, though some in-person sessions may be in the winter to use preexisting meetings. See below for planned dates of webinars/calls that are open to the public.

Individuals may register to attend as many public sessions as they like. To maximize the number of people who are able to speak during the sessions, commenters will generally be limited to three minutes, after which their lines will be muted. If the comment is obscene or hateful, OVW may mute the line sooner. If you don’t get the chance to speak or still have more to say, don’t worry – you can submit brief written comments. (See below for details about written comments.)

All public conferral sessions are for anyone with an interest – not just OVW grantees. Survivors, service providers who are not OVW grant recipients, and other individuals who wish to comment are welcome to join.

Most public conferral sessions will be at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time to enable participation from all states and territories. Each call/webinar will be one hour long. Webinars will be closed-captioned and participants will be able to type comments and questions. Dates are subject to change. OVW will provide notice of any changes on our website. Additional information about format and registration will be available in the coming months.  

Conferral Sessions Open to the Public:

1) Open Forum: Technical Assistance Needs in the Field

March 2016

2) Open Forum: Emerging Issues

April 2016

3) Open Forum: Unmet Needs

May 2016

4) Open Forum: Promising Practices in the Field

June 2016

5) Open Forum: Administration of Grants

September 2016

STOP/SASP Administrator, Coalitions, and TA Providers:

If you are a STOP or SASP State Formula Grant Administrator, a Tribal or State Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition Director, or an OVW Technical Assistance Provider, you will receive information about in-person and virtual (call/webinar) conferral sessions. You are welcome to attend the public conferral sessions as well.

Written Comments:

Individuals and organizations may submit written comments for each of the topical calls, but comments are limited to two pages. If comments exceed the limit, only the first two pages will be reviewed. Comments can be submitted any time from now until December 31, 2016. If you would like to submit comments, email them to OVW.Director@usdoj.gov. Please put “conferral” in the subject line.

OVW intends to host a thorough conferral process. However, the conferral plan may need to change in response to developing events in the coming months or information gleaned in the initial conferral sessions. Notice of relevant changes will be provided via email and/or OVW’s website.

Not later than 90 days after the conclusion of the conferral period, OVW will publish a report that summarizes the issues presented during conferral and what policies we intend to implement to address those issues.

We are excited to hear from you in the coming months.

Monday, November 16, 2015

FOIA Infographic

Earlier this year, OIP announced the availability of new electronic FOIA training resources at an event attended by representatives from across the federal government. The four new resources were designed to ensure that individuals at all levels of federal service have access to quality FOIA training, reinforcing the Department of Justice’s message that “FOIA is everyone’s responsibility.” Last month, Acting Associate Attorney General and Justice Department’s Chief FOIA Officer Stuart Delery reiterated this message in a memorandum to agency general counsels and Chief FOIA Officers.

OIP designed these resources to address the unique needs of multiple levels of the federal workforce. The FOIA Infographic is a one-page resource to help new employees understand what the FOIA is and how the FOIA process works at their agencies. An in-depth e-Learning course for FOIA professionals provides a training session on the major procedural and substantive requirements of the law, while a second e-Learning course for federal employees provides a brief primer on the FOIA and the responsibilities of these employees under the law. Finally, a presentation for agency senior executives emphasizes the importance of leadership support for an agency’s FOIA program.

In his memorandum, Acting Associate Attorney General Delery encouraged all “agencies to take advantage of these new training materials” and noted that:

“A proper understanding of the FOIA, including the correct application of the statute’s provisions and the Attorney General’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines, is fundamental to any successful FOIA operation.”

The Acting Associate Attorney General also directed agency leaders to ensure that all agency employees are aware of “the important role they play in implementing [the FOIA].” You can read the full text of this memorandum on our Training page.

Since their announcement, OIP has worked with agencies to ensure the availability of these resources to federal personnel. The FOIA Infographic and Senior Executive Briefing are available directly from our website. The e-Learning courses are designed for use within an agency’s Learning Management System. Requests for these courses, if your agency does not already have access to them, can be directed to our Training Staff at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov. For more information on all of these resources, please visit our Training page.

 

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government

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