Justice Blogs

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Justice Department Announces First-Ever Second Chance FellowAttorney General Lynch attends Federal Interagency Reentry Council Meeting

Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

Just days before my visit to Goucher College’s Prison Education Partnership at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I had the honor of chairing my first meeting of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council – a group comprised of representatives from more than 20 federal agencies that works to align and advance reentry efforts across the federal government with an overarching aim to not only reduce recidivism and high correctional costs, but also to improve public health, child welfare, employment, education, housing and other key reintegration outcomes.  It was a privilege to sit beside my colleagues from across the government to discuss the pressing issues before us.  And given President Obama’s recent commutations and his visit to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution to highlight these critical issues, the meeting provided a timely opportunity for us to share information about recent accomplishments, and more importantly, discuss upcoming policy considerations.

Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons, and over 11 million cycle through local jails.  In addition, a broader population – approximately one in three U.S. adults – has an arrest record, mostly for relatively minor, non-violent offenses, and sometimes as a result of crimes committed decades in the past.  The long-term – sometimes lifetime – impact of a criminal record will keep many of these people from obtaining employment, accessing housing, higher education, loans, and credit – even if they have paid their debt to society, turned their lives around, and demonstrated that they are unlikely to reoffend.  At the same time, research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) shows that individuals who stay out of trouble for just a few years after an arrest are largely indistinguishable from the general population in terms of their likelihood of committing a crime.  Further, participation in pro-social behaviors like employment, education and civic engagement – the very things that people with criminal records are often barred from participating in – actually reduce recidivism. 

As a lifelong prosecutor, I know understand how important it is to aggressively prosecute criminal behavior as a means of keeping our communities safe.  But I also recognize that prosecution is only one aspect of a comprehensive justice system – particularly when nearly every person behind bars will one day come home.  In order to truly make our communities safer, we must make sure that people who have served their time are able to fully and productively engage in our society – whether through education or employment or some other constructive means. 

Listening to my colleagues on the Reentry Council discuss their commitment to this mission and their dedication to this cause makes me confident that we will continue to make progress.  For example, Labor Secretary Tom Perez briefed the Reentry Council on DOL’s new Linking Employment Activities Pre-release (LEAP) grants, which support the development and implementation of specialized American Job Centers inside the correctional facility that directly connect local inmates to the full-service AJC within their community.  Providing incarcerated individuals with a range of workforce services while they transition out of local correctional facilities better prepares them to reenter the workforce and improves their opportunities for finding suitable employment immediately upon release.   

Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet of the Small Business Administration updated the Council on SBA’s efforts to increase access to their Microloan Program.  SBA published a final rule for the Microloan Program that provides more flexibility to SBA non-profit intermediaries and expands the pool of microloan recipients.  The change will make small businesses that have an owner who is currently on probation or parole eligible for microloan programs, aiding individuals who face significant barriers to traditional employment as they seek to reenter the workforce. 

During the meeting, I had the distinct pleasure of announcing Daryl Atkinson as DOJ’s first-ever Second Chance Fellow.  This position was designed to bring in a person with expertise as a leader in the criminal justice field – and as a formerly incarcerated individual.  Recognizing that many of those directly impacted by the criminal justice system hold significant insight into reforming the justice system, the Bureau of Justice Assistance – led by Director Denise O’Donnell – released a competitive solicitation that led to Daryl’s selection.

Federal Interagency Reentry Council Meeting

Daryl has a remarkable story.  In 1996, Daryl served 40 months in prison after pleading guilty to a first-time non-violent drug crime – and when he was released, he faced a series of collateral consequences.  He lost his driver’s license, making it difficult for him to secure employment.  He was barred from receiving federal financial student aid, which presented obstacles to furthering his education.  And he was unable to vote in his home state of Alabama, restricting his ability to participate in the civic life of his community.  But through all of these obstacles and challenges, Daryl persevered – earning a bachelor’s degree and then a law degree, and ultimately rising to become a Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice where he focuses on criminal justice reform issues, particularly removing the legal barriers triggered by contact with the criminal justice system. 

Last year, Daryl was recognized by the White House as a “Reentry and Employment Champion of Change.”  Then-Attorney General Eric Holder recognized Daryl’s transformative journey in his remarks when he said “Daryl overcame his own involvement with the criminal justice system and has since worked to build a better future not only for himself – but for countless others who deserve a second chance.”  And now, Daryl will work with us, as a colleague to the Reentry Council, as an advisor to the BJA Second Chance programs, and as a conduit to engage the broader justice-involved population so that DOJ and the Administration are hearing from all stakeholders as we move forward in strengthening our nation and empowering our communities.

Although the path ahead of us is far from easy, there is momentum – across federal agencies, across political parties, and across the United States – to reform our criminal justice system and give people a legitimate chance to earn their way back and lead law-abiding lives.  Working with my colleagues, I look forward to continuing the good work of the Reentry Council and taking concrete steps to achieve the President’s vision for meaningful criminal justice reform.

This post can also be found on the Huffington Post Blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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

Self-Assessments and Internal Reviews
October 6, 2015, 10:00 am to 12 noon

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

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
Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Courtesy of Director Ronald L. Davis of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

President Obama discusses the Task Force on 21st Century PolicingI can recall the pride of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing when the 11 outstanding members handed the final report to the president on May 18, 2015.  The smiles and expressions on their faces while sitting in the White House spoke volumes about their accomplishment.  That pride, however, was not simply because they delivered a report; it was also because the report represented a defining moment in American policing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine policing in a democratic society—a goal every member of the task force is committed to seeing through well beyond the completion of the report.

Their pride grew even stronger when the president sat down with the task force and began to discuss the importance of the recommendations and the report’s potential transformative impact on the field.  The president made it clear that the report would not sit on a shelf, but would serve as a catalyst for the type of police reform needed in communities across the country.

On July 23, the White House and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) took a notable step toward that goal and co-hosted a forum on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  More than 150 participants—including representatives from law enforcement, elected officials and community partners representing more than 40 cities—attended the event.  Throughout the full-day forum, senior administration officials joined attendees to discuss and share strategies for implementing the recommendations outlined in the task force report, and developed ideas that police and their communities across the country can use to enhance public safety while building trust.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, community leaders and other law enforcement professionals rolled up their sleeves to identify best practices and document implementation strategies to be included in a forthcoming publication that will serve as a national playbook for implementing the recommendations in the final task force report.  The collaborations I witnessed were not merely impressive—they were truly inspiring.

I have often said that advancement of community policing is the key strategy for improving public safety and security in this nation, and if the collaboration and strategizing I observed yesterday is any indication of what the future holds, we are moving in the right direction.  But there is still work to be done.

The COPS Office has already started to meet the challenges put forth by the task force and to implement recommendations outlined in the final report.  The COPS Office will continue to build community policing capacity and help make the streets of America safer through its hiring grants.  Our grants will also support programs aimed at building trust, reducing bias and helping law enforcement transform their agencies into departments that live up to the expectations of their communities.

To further assist the field in implementing the task force recommendations, the COPS Office has announced the creation of a new section within the COPS Office—the Policing Practices and Accountability Section—which will work closely with practitioners and researchers to provide technical assistance, identify industry best practices, provide crisis response services and develop strategies to best implement the recommendations in the field.Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch delivers remarks at the White House Community Policing Forum.

But we know that true change can only come from the field.  The COPS Office is committed to helping the field advance the field.

We are therefore asking you to answer the president’s call to action and use your leadership skills to advance the task force recommendations.  And as you do this work, please tell us how you are implementing the recommendations.  We are eager to learn what you are doing in your communities and to find out how your agency is moving the law enforcement profession forward—whether it’s a new department policy designed to encourage citizen engagement, a social media tool that helps gauge community sentiment or solve crimes, a training program intended to reduce implicit bias or a targeted enforcement effort that has been effective in reducing crime while maintaining civic involvement.

Please visit the task force’s new website and tell us about your efforts.

Thank you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Since 2010, agency Chief FOIA Officers have submitted to the Department of Justice an annual report detailing all of their agency’s efforts in implementing President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Memoranda. These Chief FOIA Officer Reports have served as a valuable resource for agencies to describe the various initiatives undertaken to improve their administration of the FOIA.  With the completion of agencies’ 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports this past Sunshine Week, today OIP releases its summary and assessment of these reports and the progress made in implementing Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines.

Similar to last year, this year’s summary is broken down into five parts detailing the efforts of agencies in each of the five key areas from Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines:

  • Applying the Presumption of Openness,
  • Having Effective Systems for Responding to Requests,
  • Making Information Available Proactively,
  • Utilizing Technology, and
  • Reducing Backlogs and Improving Timeliness.

Agencies and the public are encouraged to read both OIP’s summary and each agency’s individual report to learn more about the various efforts and steps taken over the last reporting year to improve the administration of the FOIA across the government.

In addition to the summary, OIP’s 2015 assessment once again provides a visual snapshot of agency efforts in several key areas of FOIA administration. The assessment includes all of the enhanced features introduced last year, including an expanded five-step scoring system, overall scores for each assessed section, and the inclusion of a detailed methodology. The full assessment is provided in both an open format and in PDF.

As announced in September 2014, a significant change for agency 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports is the separate reporting requirements for large and small volume FOIA agencies. This difference is incorporated into the 2015 assessment so that the milestones are tailored to the distinctive FOIA processes at different size agencies.

Finally, as a part of the 2015 summary and assessment, OIP has once again included guidance based on our review of the 2015 reports to assist agencies in making further improvements in the years ahead.

Based on our review of agency 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, and as stated in OIP’s summary and assessment, “agencies have persevered through a difficult year of tight resources and ever-increasing demands to continue improving their administration of the FOIA through various initiatives connected to the five key areas of Attorney General Holder's 2009 FOIA Guidelines.” At the same time, the level of success achieved by agencies in these efforts varies and there is still work to be done. OIP’s yearly assessment is intended to serve as a vehicle to both recognize agency successes and to identify areas where further improvement can be made.

You can read OIP’s 2015 Summary and Assessment of Agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports on our Reports page alongside previous summaries and assessments. OIP’s guidance for further improvement based on our review of agency 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports is available as a part of this year’s summary as well as on our Guidance page.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery

Today, as we observe Military Consumer Protection Day, I want to highlight the resources available to help servicemembers and veterans protect themselves against fraud and make informed decisions about managing their money.  Protecting the rights and interests of the brave men and women of our military is a priority for the Department of Justice.  The Department endeavors to protect the health, safety, and economic security of servicemembers and veterans through criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions, including cases that help recoup money lost through fraud, loan defaults, and the abuse of federal funds.  We work closely with the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other agencies to identify and address the greatest threats to members of the military and veterans as consumers.  And U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country have established strong working relationships with military installations in their districts, collaborating with JAG Corps officers and others.

Military Consumer Protection Day also gives us an opportunity to focus on the federal and state laws directed at safeguarding the rights of servicemembers and veterans.   The Department has developed enforcement toolkits for U.S. Attorneys, State Attorneys General, and Judge Advocates detailing the specialized laws and resources available to respond to consumer fraud targeted at servicemembers, veterans and their families.  One of those laws is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which eases financial burdens on servicemembers by providing relief from credit obligations and court proceedings while they are on active duty.  It also postpones, suspends, terminates, or reduces the amount of certain civil obligations – including interest rates – for members of the armed forces.

We want to make sure servicemembers know about these protections – and know how to take advantage of them if they encounter illegal practices.  The Department’s recent successes in enforcing the SCRA demonstrate the breadth and importance of the rights it creates.  For example, the SCRA can protect servicemembers facing problems related to –

Student Loans: In United States v. Sallie Mae, Inc., 77,795 servicemembers will receive $60 million in compensation for having been charged excess interest on their student loans.  The settlement has also led the Department of Education to streamline the process under which servicemembers can obtain the interest rate benefit for their government-owned and guaranteed student loans.

Auto Repossession:  In United States v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.,  Santander is required to pay over $10 million to more than 1,100 SCRA-protected servicemembers whose motor vehicles were repossessed unlawfully between January 2008 and February 2015.

Storage Auctions: In United States v. Horoy, Inc. d/b/a/ Across Town Movers, the consent order requires the defendants to pay $169,900 in damages to ten servicemembers for unlawfully auctioning off their stored goods without obtaining court orders, as required by the SCRA.

Mortgage Foreclosures: In the first wave of SCRA payments to go out under the National Mortgage Settlement, from JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and GMAC Mortgage, 952 servicemembers are eligible to receive over $123 million for non-judicial foreclosures.  The banks will repair any negative credit report entries related to the allegedly wrongful foreclosures and will not pursue any remaining amounts owed under the mortgages. This joint federal-state agreement includes expanded protections for servicemembers.

The Department’s recently created Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative is further strengthening our comprehensive legal support and protection network for servicemembers, veterans and their families, through enforcement, education and access to justice. We’ll maintain an active website of resources, and perform outreach at military installations throughout the country – such as our participation in Military Consumer Protection Day activities at Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst in New Jersey today.

We encourage servicemembers and veterans to be proactive in rooting out consumer fraud as well.  If you think your rights under the SCRA or other statutes  have been violated, or if you think there is a fraud scheme targeting servicemembers in your area, please reach out to your commander or legal services on your base.

The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative and Military Consumer Protection Day are two examples of ways the U.S. government helps our men and women in uniform give their full attention to their military and professional responsibilities without adverse consequences for themselves or their families. Enhancing support for consumer protections will allow servicemembers to focus on their work safeguarding the country and help veterans live securely in the country they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend. 

Find detailed information about servicemembers’ and veterans’ consumer rights at http://www.military.ncpw.gov/ and www.servicemembers.gov.

Friday, July 10, 2015

This past Fourth of July marked the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which as President Obama declared, "is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government."  In celebration of this milestone in the history of this important law, today, the Department of Justice is pleased to announce the launch of a new pilot program at seven agencies designed to test the feasibility of posting online FOIA responses so that they are available not just to the individual requester, but to the general public as well.  

The significance of the FOIA was emphasized from the very beginning with Attorney General Clark’s June 1967 memorandum on the implementation of the FOIA.  Issued to executive departments and agencies one month before the law took effect, the Attorney General declared:

“If the government is to be truly of, by, and for the people, the people must know in detail the activities of government.  Nothing so diminishes democracy as secrecy.  Self-government, the maximum participation of the citizenry in affairs of state, is meaningful only with an informed public.”

During the pilot, we seek to answer many important questions, including: costs associated with such a policy, effect on staff time required to process requests, effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the justification for exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy.  For privacy reasons, participating agencies will not post online responses to requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves.

The agencies participating in the pilot are the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and components or offices of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the National Archives and Records Administration, with OIP leading the effort.

The results of this six-month pilot program will be made available to the public, and we intend to be transparent about the pilots and their implementation by participating agencies. We also invite the public’s feedback as we explore this proposed policy shift, and welcome innovative ideas and suggestions for overcoming the implementation challenges. Comments should be sent to OIP at ReleaseToAll@usdoj.gov.

 

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, FOIA Update
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division

In 2000, Congress expanded the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (PAIMI Act) to give federally-funded protection and advocacy systems (P&As) authority to investigate possible abuse or neglect occurring in the community, including in facilities, like schools, that provide services to people with mental illness. Congress’ goal in expanding the PAIMI Act was to fully protect individuals with mental illness.  Approximately 13.3 percent of school-age children nationwide receive treatment for a serious mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.  Researchers have identified schools as a critical location for screening and support services for children with mental health disabilities.  As a result, the national network of P&As plays a significant role in ensuring compliance with both PAIMI and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

This month, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services filed a statement of interest in federal court in the case Disability Rights New York v. North Colonie Board of Education arguing that the PAIMI Act should be enforced to protect students with mental illness from abuse or neglect in public schools.  Specifically, the statement of interest argues that federal law authorizes Disability Rights New York (DRNY), a designated P&A in New York State, to investigate complaints about treatment of students with disabilities at New York State schools.  DRNY received six complaints about possible neglect, which led them to open an investigation.  As the departments noted in their statement of interest, it is not possible for the Justice Department to investigate every claim of abuse or neglect, but P&As are able to investigate many more PAIMI violations and often represent individuals in administrative hearings and in federal court to challenge abuse or neglect, including unnecessary seclusion or restraint.

The statement of interest highlights the critical role that P&As play in defending the rights of individuals with mental illness and all persons with disabilities, especially when it comes to children.  These children, who spend most of their day under the care and supervision of schools, are among the most vulnerable populations served by P&As and schools play an incredibly important role in screening and providing support services for children with mental illness.  However, if programs are not properly administered, children may be placed at risk.  As the statement of interest argues, the ability of P&As to monitor and investigate allegations of possible harm to children with mental illness in local schools is crucial to the system of protections against abuse and neglect that Congress created when it passed the PAIMI Act. 

The department’s filing in Disability Rights New York v. North Colonie Board of Education is just one example of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s efforts, especially as it comes to protecting students with mental illness from abuse or neglect in public schools. The division works to achieve equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the United States by implementing the ADA and other statutes.  The division’s enforcement, regulatory, coordination, and technical assistance activities, combined with an innovative mediation program and a robust technical assistance program, provide a cost-effective and dynamic approach for carrying out the ADA's mandates.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This week, the Privacy Office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) became the first federal agency to release a FOIA mobile application. You can read about the features of the new app in a post on DHS’ blog from their Chief Privacy Officer, Karen Neuman which is also reprinted below. OIP applauds the ingenuity of DHS as they implement innovative approaches to FOIA administration.


Submit a FOIA request anytime, anywhere

By: Karen Neuman, Chief Privacy Officer

I am pleased to announce the release of a new mobile application to further simplify and enhance the process for submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The Department of Homeland Security is committed to transparency and accountability and the eFOIA app is the latest in a series of efforts that the DHS Privacy Office has taken to help modernize FOIA processes and improve the customer experience. In fact, this is the first FOIA mobile app in the entire Federal Government.

Using their mobile devices, requesters can now submit requests and check the status of existing requests anyplace, anytime.

Key features of the new eFOIA app will allow users to:

  • Submit a FOIA request to any DHS Component
  • Check the status of FOIA requests
  • Access all of the content on the FOIA website, including the FOIA Library
  • Receive updates, changes to events--such as stakeholder meetings/conference calls held by the Department, and recently published documents

DHS receives the largest number of FOIA requests of any federal agency, and produces the largest number of responses. We are continually working to improve our FOIA program by deploying advanced technology both for submitting and processing requests. These efforts include an improved online FOIA submission form, as well as a recently launched online check status capability.

As a result of these efforts, we are starting to see a steady reduction in the FOIA backlog. Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015, DHS has reduced its FOIA backlog by 20 percent, from 103,480 to 82,324 as of July 1, 2015.

The DHS Privacy Office created the eFOIA app in partnership with the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer.

The free app is currently available for all Apple and Android devices.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Thursday, July 2, 2015

President Obama and Attorney General Holder emphasized in their FOIA Memoranda the importance of agencies working with FOIA requesters “in a spirit of cooperation.”  A key element of that cooperation is establishing and maintaining good communication with requesters.  In 2010, before the first anniversary of the issuance of Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) issued guidance entitled The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters.  That guidance addressed several ways in which agencies could improve their communication practices. 

One of the topics addressed in OIP’s 2010 guidance was the use of  what is known as a “still-interested” inquiry, i.e., when an agency asks a requester whether he or she remains interested in the continued processing of their request.  OIP’s 2010 guidance advised agencies to be “mindful of the manner in which such inquiries are made,” and to afford requesters a reasonable amount of time to indicate their continued interest.

Today, OIP has released new guidance designed to further improve the way “still-interested” inquiries are utilized by agencies.  As noted in this new guidance:

“While use of ‘still-interested’ inquiries is an understandable way to help ensure that agency resources are appropriately spent processing requests for records where the requester remains interested in receiving the documents, it is equally important that requesters are not in any way disadvantaged by their use.”

The new guidance outlines a series of procedures that agencies should use when inquiring whether a requester remains interested in the continued processing of his or her request. 

These include:

  • Reasonable Grounds to Make “Still-Interested” Inquiry in the First Instance – any “still-interested” inquiry should be limited to those situations where the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that  the  requester’s interest in the records may have changed;
     
  • Limiting the Number of Times “Still-Interested” Inquiries are Made – absent good cause, agencies should not inquire more than once whether a requester is still interested in the request;
     
  • Using Requester’s Preferred Method of Communicating – email or telephone are often the most efficient ways to communicate with requesters and should be used as the default;
     
  • Providing Requesters with a Reasonable Amount of Time and Method to Respond to “Still-Interested” Inquiries – the time period to allow requesters to respond to “still-interested” inquiries should be no shorter than thirty (30) working days and a simple response over the telephone, a reply to an email, or the checking of a box on a self-addressed form are all examples of easy methods that agencies can make available to requesters so that they can most readily respond to the inquiry; and
     
  • Ensuring Requesters are Not Disadvantaged – in the event  a requester responds to a “still-interested” inquiry within a reasonable time after the deadline has passed, agencies should simply reopen the request and place it back into the agency’s queue in the same position it would have been had the “still-interested” inquiry not been sent.

Agencies should review their procedures on the use of “still-interested” inquiries to ensure they are in conformity with this new guidance.  OIP has prepared an implementation checklist to assist agencies in doing so. 

The full text of the guidance and its accompanying checklist, along with all other guidance issued by OIP, is available on our guidance page.   

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court recognized in Lau v. Nichols that:“Basic English skills are at the very core of what  public schools teach.  Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education.”  That recognition informed the court’s landmark holding that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), and its implementing regulations and guidance, require schools that receive federal financial assistance to take affirmative steps to ensure that English learner (EL) students can meaningfully participate in their educational programs.  Consistent with Lau’s holding, Congress enacted the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), requiring both local and state educational agencies to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by EL students in instructional programs. 

In the years since the Supreme Court decided Lau and Congress enacted the EEOA, many school districts and states across the country have made significant strides in providing necessary services and supports to EL students and to Limited English Proficient (LEP) families.  And the Department of Justice has promoted state and district compliance with these laws through investigations and enforcement actions.  Just this week, the department secured significant relief for the more than 16,000 EL students in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) when the court approved the modified consent decree (MCD) jointly filed by all parties in the historic Lau case.  The MCD aims to address compliance problems identified by the department and the private plaintiffs through their active monitoring of SFUSD’s implementation of a 2008 court order.

This ground-breaking MCD requires SFUSD to implement comprehensive measures to ensure that all EL students in its 105 regular education schools and five court and county (i.e., serving detained and incarcerated students) schools have equal educational opportunities, and that Limited English Proficient (LEP) families can participate meaningfully in the education of their children.  The MCD requires SFUSD to:

  • promptly identify, assess and place EL students in effective EL programs;

  • offer a range of EL programs and services to meet the needs of all EL students, including newcomers, students with disabilities and long-term EL students;

  • expand translation and interpreter services for LEP families;

  • adequately train employees who serve EL students so that they can fulfill their roles; and

  • conduct robust monitoring.

The MCD also protects the educational rights of the district’s most at-risk and vulnerable EL students who are learning in alternative education or juvenile justice settings.

The court’s approval of this significant consent decree furthers the promise of Lau: that all students, no matter their language background, have access to a high-quality education.  The department looks forward to working with SFUSD, its students, the private plaintiffs, and the community to implement the MCD to ensure that EL students and LEP families are welcomed and supported in all aspects of their educational experiences. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division

There are almost 90,000 units of state and local governments, each of which plays a fundamental role in the lives of its residents.  Not only do these governmental entities provide a wide array of programs, services, and activities to their residents, they also rely on their residents to participate in civic activities by voting, serving on advisory boards, running for office, volunteering in schools and countless other activities.  In the United States, more than 55 million Americans—18% of our population—have disabilities.  This number includes many people who became disabled while serving in the military.  And, by the year 2030, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over age 65 and may need services and surroundings that meet their age-related physical needs.  And they, like all Ameri­cans, want to fully and meaningfully participate in all their state and local government has to offer.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.  Under Title II of the ADA, people with disabilities are entitled to all of the rights, privileges, advan­tages and opportunities that others have when participating in civic activities.

To help state and local governments understand how the ADA applies to their particular programs, services and activities, the department has published a new technical assistance document, ADA Update: A Primer for State and Local Governments.  This 16-page illustrated guide provides practical, non-legal information that addresses Title II’s general nondiscrimination requirements, such as provisions relating to program accessibility, service animals, communicating with people with disabilities, power-driven mobility devices and policies and procedures.  The document also addresses how the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design apply to existing buildings and facilities, new construction and alterations.  In addition to this primer, the department helps state and local governments through Project Civic Access—a wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.

This new document is available on the department’s ADA Website at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/title_ii_primer.html.  Also available on the ADA Website are a variety of additional technical assistance materials specifically for State and local governments addressing such topics as voting, emergency management, and community integration.  Individuals who have questions about this document, the requirements of Title II, or the ADA in general may call the department’s ADA Information Line (1-800-514-0301, Voice; 1-800-514-0383, TTY).  Specialists are available to answer questions Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), except on Thursdays when the hours are 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Calls are confidential. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery Speaking at the White for an Elder Justice ForumBy Stuart F. Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General

Earlier this week President Obama issued a proclamation designating Monday, June 15, 2015 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/12/presidential-proclamation-world-elder-abuse-awareness-day-2015).  The President called on all Americans to observe the day by “learning the signs of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and by raising awareness about this important public health issue.”  On Tuesday, Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, welcomed fifty advocates, physicians, prosecutors, researchers, representatives of financial institutions, and state and local government officials to the White House for an Elder Justice Forum to talk about how best to address and prevent elder abuse and financial exploitation.  With more than 40 million Americans already older than 65, and with 10,000 more Americans joining their ranks every day, these are issues of increasing urgency. 

The White House meeting participants clearly understood this urgency, and came to the Elder Justice Forum with innovative ideas for strengthening law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts in this arena; supporting research and victim services; and preventing and combatting elder financial exploitation.  As the meeting participants shared their ideas with each other and with the senior Administration officials attending the forum, I was struck by several common themes:   

We should employ multi-faceted, multi-cultural, and multi-disciplinary approaches to combat the mistreatment of older Americans.  Victims of elder abuse and financial exploitation are likely to have contact with many different professionals in their communities.  Unless those professionals – including 911 operators, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers, postal workers, health care providers, and bankers – are trained to ask the right (and culturally-appropriate) questions, to share information with one another, and to report their concerns to a single point of contact (such as a dedicated elder abuse prosecutor or case manager), many of our family members, friends, and neighbors will continue to suffer in silence.       

We need to know more to do more.  Our understanding of elder abuse lags far behind our knowledge of child abuse and domestic violence – a fact that is both alarming and unacceptable.  While we have made some inroads on the research front, we must redouble those efforts and identify the factors that leave older adults vulnerable to mistreatment, screening tools for recognizing victims, and effective interventions to address and prevent mistreatment.Panel for the Elder Justice Forum at the White House

We can work better by working together.  By far, the need to work together was the most resounding theme to echo throughout the day.  Elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation do not recognize cultural, demographic, or geographic boundaries, and our efforts to develop sustainable and effective solutions must cross the same lines.  While I am proud of the Administration’s elder justice work to date, we can achieve even more by working with our colleagues in state and local government and the private sector to improve the quality of life for this vulnerable – and growing – population. 

This week’s Elder Justice Forum, as well as the White House Conference on Aging in July (http://www.whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov/), will create significant momentum behind this critical cause, and an opportunity to make meaningful progress in the fight against elder abuse and financial exploitation.  We should seize that opportunity, because we owe our nation’s seniors nothing less.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

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

As many of us are preparing for the end of school and summer vacation, communities across the world are gearing up to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15. WEAAD was launched in 2006, to shine a spotlight on the abuse and neglect experienced by millions of older adults that is too often overlooked or unreported. On this day, we have the opportunity to increase awareness about abuse in later life, learn what to do if we suspect abuse or neglect, and stand united against elder abuse.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) remains committed to raising awareness about abuse in later life.  Since 2006, 77 communities have received funding through OVW’s Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program. The Abuse in Later Life Program has made it possible for thousands of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, and other professionals who work with older victims to receive vital training to on how to recognize and address elder abuse.  

On April 22 – 23, 2015, OVW and the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) convened a roundtable with national leaders and subject matter experts to talk about ways to improve the criminal justice and victim services responses to elder abuse. Based on this roundtable, OVW is working with NCALL to identify enhanced training opportunities and resources for criminal justice professionals and develop guiding principles, standards and practice guidelines on effectively serving older victims/survivors of abuse for both domestic violence and sexual assault programs and aging services organizations.

As the percentage of Americans over the age of 50 continues to grow, the number of older adults experiencing abuse in later life is also increasing. We encourage you to get involved in local WEAAD events because you can make a difference. Here are some ideas:

  • Take advantage of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to highlight domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in later life in your community

  • Use the phrase “victims across the lifespan” to promote recognition of older victims in written materials

  • Include images of older adults in brochures, posters and presentations

  • Include examples of abuse in later life in educational events

  • Conduct outreach where older adults gather

  • Highlight older victims during domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking awareness months

  • Work collaboratively with experts in aging network services and elder abuse

Information and resources on elder abuse is available through the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Website and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).  Additional information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day can be found on the Administration for Community Living website.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation visit, U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Website,  NCEA’s State Resources webpage or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Left to right: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys Director Monty Wilkinson, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesAttorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates joined the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) to honor 160 award recipients at the 31st Annual EOUSA Director’s Awards Ceremony. 

“Our honorees include career executives and supervisors; Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys; appellate attorneys and law enforcement officials; administrators, paralegals, and public affairs officers,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “These individuals, and so many others, have faced daunting and sometimes dangerous challenges.  They have dedicated their leadership and their expertise, their time and their energy, to the service of their mission.  And they have remained devoted, at all times, to the high ideals and deeply-held values that animate our country and our cause.”

The work recognized by these awards includes cases such as the largest organized crime prosecution targeting a Eurasian criminal enterprise, protecting the rights of our service members through USERRA, and prosecuting a serial rape and pornography case that spanned five years and involved more than 50 victims.

31st Annual EOUSA Director's Awards CeremonyToday’s honorees have worked diligently and selflessly to protect the rights of Americans, and we applaud them for their pursuit of justice and commitment to excellence. 

EOUSA provides oversight, general executive assistance, and direction to the 94 United States Attorneys’ offices around the country. For more information on EOUSA and its mission, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao.

 

 

 

Topic(s):
U.S. Attorney's Office News
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Courtesy of Stuart F. Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General

The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services provides essential support to state, local, and tribal police departments.  Led by a former police chief who served for over 28 years in the Oakland and East Palo Alto Police Departments, the COPS Office is one of the nation’s foremost resources on building trust and mutual respect between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.  It has worked with hundreds of police departments to provide training, lead collaborative efforts to improve policies and practices, and coordinate emergency assistance in response to a crisis.  It also administers grants that have allowed state, local, and tribal police departments to hire and retain an additional 126,000 officers, focused on top national priorities like preventing terrorism and violent crime.

Law enforcement organizations and civil rights leaders have praised the COPS Office’s work.  And its work is all the more critical given the tensions that recent incidents in Baltimore, Ferguson, North Charleston, and elsewhere have laid bare.

But instead of maintaining or expanding the COPS Office’s programs, the budget that the House of Representatives is about to consider would effectively eliminate them.  The White House Office of Management and Budget recently released a letter to the Hill expressing serious concerns about the House budget proposal.  It would cut all funding for the COPS Office’s training and critical response efforts, as well as funding for advancing community policing innovation in the field.  It would eliminate the COPS hiring grants.  Almost all of the existing functions of the COPS Office would lose their entire budget at the start of the next fiscal year. 

The proposed budget relocates the funding for peripherally related programs currently run out of other offices to the COPS Office.  But none of that money would fund the efforts that have been at the core of the COPS Office’s success. The COPS program is just one of many examples of the troubling, short-sighted cuts that result from Congressional Republicans’ insistence on maintaining sequestration funding levels in their FY 2016 budget. Sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms.

Gutting the COPS Office would result in an estimated 1,300 fewer officers in cities and towns all across the country and diminish the capacity of the nation’s first responders.  Its full impact, however, would go beyond the loss of law enforcement personnel safeguarding communities.  That impact is best understood by looking at the kinds of remarkable support for police departments that also would be lost. 

For example, after a dramatic increase in officer-involved shootings in 2011, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff recognized a problem and called the COPS Office for help.  As part of a multi-year, voluntary collaborative review process, the COPS Office identified 75 findings and made recommendations that the department could implement to reduce the number of officer-involved shootings.

Three years after the initial report was issued, the Las Vegas department has implemented almost every recommendation.  Officer-involved shootings involving unarmed suspects have been significantly reduced.  The use of tasers, pepper spray, and batons has declined.  And the number of arrests has gone down, while public safety and community relations have improved considerably. 

Las Vegas is just one of the jurisdictions that have benefited from the COPS Office’s expertise.  Large cities like Philadelphia, regional centers like Spokane and Fayetteville, and smaller cities like Calexico and Salinas in California all are currently working with the COPS Office to address issues ranging from use of force to racial profiling, training, accountability systems, and community engagement.  Agencies across the nation are using COPS Office reports as self-assessment tools.

Just as importantly, when communities like Baltimore and Ferguson have faced crises, the COPS Office has helped law enforcement agencies respond swiftly, drawing on a nationwide network of experts and successfully connecting them with the people responsible for coordinating the law enforcement response on the ground.  Within days of recent outbreaks of violence, for example, the COPS Office has assembled a group of experience police chiefs to provide advice on best practices for crowd control that respected First Amendment rights while also protecting officers.  The COPS Office also provided critical response resources to police departments in Detroit, San Diego, New Orleans, and numerous other cities and towns facing a variety of challenges.

The payoff from an investment in the COPS programs has been more effective policing and safer communities. As we continue an emerging national dialogue about improving police-community relationships, the remarkable expertise and resources that the COPS Office brings to the table – including its ability to serve as a liaison between community and law enforcement leaders – are more important than ever.  Eliminating such a resource would be disastrous.  I urge Congress to restore funding for the COPS programs. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

On May 20th, I was pleased to participate in the Justice Department’s Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Access to Justice, and the National Science Foundation.  At this gathering, passionate advocates and dedicated legal professionals worked to identify the data, methods, and research that can inform our efforts to help low-income Americans acquire the legal aid they need and deserve.  Drawn from a range of agencies and backgrounds—including both national and international experts, and federal participants from 25 offices—contributors discussed best practices, successful efforts, and new ideas to benefit the men, women, and children we strive to serve. 

As someone who has spent my professional career practicing law—and having served on the board of advisors of groups like the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Federal Defenders Service of New York—I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by those who are too often left out and left behind in their efforts to achieve meaningful justice.  Today, more than 20 percent of Americans are eligible for legal aid, yet due to insufficient resources, legal aid professionals are forced to turn away half of those who seek their assistance—from families in danger of being evicted from their homes to individuals experiencing domestic violence; from survivors of human trafficking who need access to legal services to victims of consumer fraud faced with foreclosures and illegal debt collection.

The Department of Justice is working to fill this significant need.  Through the Access to Justice Initiative, we’re building partnerships across the country to expand legal aid and rethinking policies that reduce its impact.  Thanks to the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which ATJ helped launch in 2012, more than two dozen federal grant programs—involving health care, citizenship, post-incarceration reentry, housing for veterans, and other federal priorities—have now been clarified to allow funding for legal services to further program goals. And under the Department’s recently-expanded Pro Bono Program, any DOJ employee can now use up to 30 hours of administrative leave for pro bono work that takes place during work hours, such as court appearances and mediations. 

With the work of the Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop, we are taking another important step toward identifying strategies that will help us improve the ways we serve those who look to us for help.  Among its important contributions, the workshop highlighted new research that shows how legal aid interventions can significantly improve lives and respond to critical civil justice needs.  It put a spotlight on innovative cross-disciplinary tactics, such as combining medical and legal services under one roof.  It also furthered the Department’s commitment to an evidence-based approach that will produce better outcomes for individuals in need of assistance.

The work of ensuring meaningful access to justice for every American is more than just a professional responsibility—it is a moral obligation and a national charge.  It is at the very core of what this country stands for.  Whether they are rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, every person in this country deserves equality under the law.  Every person in this country deserves fair treatment from the civil justice system.  And every person in this country deserves our best efforts in the service of that cause.  In the days ahead—through workshops like this one, and additional efforts across the country—the Department will continue to fulfill that promise, continue to fight for those values, and continue to strive for justice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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

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.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for persons 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 highlight the story of Attorney Tom Ross and his struggle to gain full and equal access to electronic court documents in Orange County, Florida.

Mr. Ross, who is blind, was representing the plaintiff in a case before the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.  In all civil cases assigned to this court, documents must be filed electronically with the Orange County Clerk of Courts through an electronic case filing (ECF) system.  Electronic documents, websites, and other electronic information (including PDF documents) can be accessible to blind people who use common screen reading technology, which reads electronic documents aloud.  However, the electronic information must be formatted to be accessible for the screen reader, which can be done using common software programs. 

Unfortunately, many of the documents in Mr. Ross’s case were filed in an inaccessible PDF format.  And despite his multiple requests, the Clerk of Courts failed to provide Mr. Ross with an accessible version of these documents for 14 months.  For example, at least one of the defendant’s motions in Mr. Ross’s case included over twenty exhibits, the majority of which were not accessible until defense counsel finally agreed to provide them in an accessible format four months after the original filing.  Even after Mr. Ross began to receive most of defendant’s filings in an accessible format, all court orders remained in an inaccessible format to Mr. Ross for another year or more.  These barriers limited Mr. Ross’s ability to practice his profession and represent his client.  They also impacted his relationship with the judge presiding over the case and opposing counsel, both of whom refused Mr. Ross’s requests for accessibility.

Soon experiences like Mr. Ross’s will become a thing of the past.  Last summer, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the Orange County Clerk of Courts to ensure that the Clerk of Courts will provide individuals with disabilities, like Mr. Ross, with any document in the court record in an accessible format upon request.  The agreement also ensures that the Clerk of Courts’ website and ECF system are made fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including blind individuals, in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/.

Now 10 months into implementation of the three-year agreement, we are pleased to report that the Clerk of Courts has worked closely with the department to ensure equal access to court documents and other services of the Clerk of Courts for people with disabilities, including making significant improvements to their website and internal policies and procedures.  The Clerk of Courts also paid $10,000 in damages to Mr. Ross and completed training on the ADA and WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility requirements.  Mr. Ross is gratified to see these changes to the Clerk of Court’s website and procedures, enabling him and other blind individuals to access court documents they need to practice their profession or participate in cases in which they are a party.  Access to court documents is critical to ensuring full and equal access to the courts—a right fundamental to our justice system.

Under Title II of the ADA and its implementing regulations, state and local government entities, such as the Orange County Clerk of Courts, are required to make their programs, services and activities accessible and to ensure their communications with qualified individuals with disabilities are equally effective as their communications with people without disabilities.  The official court record is a program, service, and activity of the Clerk of Courts.  Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or the obligations of state and local government entities under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.  ADA complaints may be filed by online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.

Thomas Ross

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery

As we pause to remember our fallen heroes this Memorial Day weekend, we remember also that the First Americans – Native Americans – have answered the call to service throughout our nation’s history, and have fallen on battlefields around the world.  Sadly, that proud tradition of service has not always been answered with  the blessings of citizenship, including access to voting polls.                

Last week the Department of Justice proposed legislation that would require states or localities whose territory includes part or all of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village, or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by the tribal government.   It would require states to make voting machines, ballots, and other voting materials and equipment available at tribal polling places to the same extent that they are available at other polling places in the state.  By these and other measures, put simply, it would guarantee the same level of access to voting First Americans as most voting Americans enjoy today. 

The causes for this gap in voter participation rates are complex and have been long in the making.  American Indians and Alaska Native people have faced a history of discrimination affecting their right to vote and were not conferred citizenship until 1924.  Even after this, many states continued to disenfranchise Indians by refusing to treat them as state residents and by imposing literacy tests.  As recently as 1948, Indians, including veterans like the Navajo Code Talkers who recently had returned from the battlefields of World War II, were barred from voting in Arizona and New Mexico. 

In 1975, recognizing the barriers to full participation that Native Americans continued to confront, Congress expressly included American Indians and Alaska Natives as protected groups under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act.  Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited many jurisdictions with large American Indian or Alaska Native populations from changing their voting laws until they could prove that the change would not create new barriers to participation.  A number of jurisdictions with large Native American populations that have limited English proficiency — in six states, including Alaska — are also covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires bilingual election materials and assistance.

Despite these reforms, participation rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to lag behind turnout rates among non-Native voters.   Estimates suggest that nationwide, while nearly 64 percent of non-Native adult citizens cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election, less than 48 percent of Native American adult citizens voted. Part of that gap is attributable to differences in registration rates; but even among registered voters, the turnout among American Indians and Alaska Natives nationwide falls 5 to 14 percentage points below that of other racial and ethnic groups. And the gap with respect to Alaska Natives is especially large: Turnout among Alaska Natives often falls 15 to 20 or more percentage points below the non-Native turnout rate. 

There are many examples of the problems American Indian and Alaska Native voters have faced getting to the polls. Residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota had to travel up to 150 miles roundtrip to vote until a federal court ordered the establishment of polling places on the reservation.  And in Alaska, polling places to which Alaska Natives have been assigned are sometimes located across a river or other body of water or across a mountain range that is impassable on Election Day. The Alaska Division of Elections has assigned some Native villages to polling places that are 75 miles away and accessible only by air or boat.  

For some potential voters, the inaccessibility of polling places poses only a minor barrier, since they can instead vote absentee. But that option is far less manageable for American Indian or Alaska Native voters with limited English proficiency, because they receive little or no assistance in navigating the bureaucratic process for obtaining and casting an absentee ballot. In Alaska, for example, the state has designated dozens of Yup’ik-speaking Native villages as “permanent absentee voting” sites where voters must fill out an English-language application to vote absentee in each election. 

Currently, federal law does not specifically address the location of polling places, leaving the decision essentially in the hands of each state which in turn often give that responsibility to local jurisdictions.   

Given the continued difficulties faced by American Indian and Alaska Native voters, this legislation is long overdue and needed if we are to adequately safeguard Native Americans’ voting rights.  As citizens of a nation founded upon the principles of liberty and equality, Native Americans have faced unacceptable barriers to participating in the franchise, a situation aggravated by a history of discrimination, poverty and — significantly — great distances from polling places.   The legislation proposed today would address this unacceptable gap and we look forward to working with Congress to see it enacted.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery

On Memorial Day, we remember the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives to protect the freedoms we cherish.  We mourn with the families and friends of those we have lost, hoping they find comfort in knowing their loved ones died with honor.

I find it useful and inspirational to reflect on the origin of the holiday we call Memorial Day, because its lessons of compassion and recovery resonate today. It began just after the Civil War, as Decoration Day, a time for the survivors of that terrible and tragic conflict to decorate the graves of the fallen which lay throughout the towns and counties of America -- especially in the South.

One of the first springtime tributes to the Civil War dead occurred in Columbus, Mississippi, on April 25, 1866.  A group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they had been the enemy and their loved ones were far away. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves as well.  This gesture of unity, one borne of a generosity of spirit, was part of the process of healing our Nation as Americans began to formalize the ways they honored those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

The first large national observance of Decoration Day was held two years later at Arlington National Cemetery. Speaking at the ceremony, President James Garfield recognized the sacrifices of the soldiers buried there, saying that “for love of country” they had “made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”  Today, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, Americans from all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, and from all regions of our country, serve with valor, courage, and distinction as one people, united, in the Armed Forces of the United States. 

This Memorial Day, let us renew our commitment to preserving the legacy of our brave citizens by continuing to work for peace, freedom, and security.  And although we can never hope to repay the debt of gratitude our nation owes those who have served in the Armed Forces, we must never forget to acknowledge what we owe them.  As Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, it is our duty “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Indeed, perhaps the best way we can honor the fallen is by supporting their families and by supporting servicemembers and veterans still with us today.  Through the Department of Justice’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, we hope to help address the unique challenges that servicemembers face while on active duty, that veterans face upon returning home, and that families face when a loved one is deployed.  That includes prioritizing enforcing the statutes specifically created to protect the civilian employment rights, voting rights, and financial security of those serving in the Armed Forces, and supporting programs, including Veterans Treatment Courts, that assist the more than 22 million veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or other mental health problems connected to their experiences while serving.  Let us carry on the legacy of those who sacrificed their lives for our country by allowing servicemembers to focus on their work protecting the country and helping veterans take their rightful place in the country they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

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

This Sunday marked the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case establishing that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”  Some sixty one years after Brown, the Department of Justice still works to uphold the promise of equal educational opportunities, including through its remaining desegregation cases.  Although these cases originated decades ago, the educational opportunities at stake are no less important today than at the time of Brown.   

This April, U.S. District Judge Madeleine Hughes Haikala of the Northern District of Alabama approved a consent order in the longstanding desegregation case Hereford v. Huntsville Board of Education.  The order, referred to by the court as a “game changer” in the district’s path toward fully eliminating the effects of segregation, came after an extensive inquiry by the Department of Justice and months of conversations with the school district.  It includes many key reforms.  It will require the district to provide equal educational opportunities to African-American students by:

  • revising attendance zones and growing and strengthening magnet programs to improve diversity at many of its schools;
  • expanding access for African-American students to pre-kindergarten, gifted programs, advanced course offerings such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, academic after-school programs, and college counseling;
  • implementing measures to promote faculty and administrator diversity;
  • ensuring that all students are aware of and can equally participate in extracurricular activities;
  • creating positive, inclusive school climates, and ensuring that student discipline is fair, non-discriminatory and does not unnecessarily remove students from classrooms;
  • establishing a desegregation advisory committee of students and parents to advise the district and inform the court about implementation of the consent order;
  • providing professional development for teachers on such topics as strategies for teaching students from diverse backgrounds, understanding implicit bias and supporting positive student behavior; and
  • continuously monitoring racial disparities to ensure meaningful and sustained improvement in student performance, students’ access to courses and rates of student discipline and other areas. 

There is no doubt that with full and faithful implementation, the consent order will provide many tangible benefits to African American students and to the entire school district.  Judge Haikala’s opinion also made clear the important intangible benefits conveyed through the school district’s commitment.  Judge Haikala’s opinion spoke directly to the students saying, “The consent order begins and ends with the district’s students – all of its students…The district believes in you and in your potential for success.  We all do…. Think about how much the city of Huntsville will benefit from the contributions that you will make in the years ahead as teachers and engineers, as doctors and lawyers, as artists and musicians.  You are an integral part of your community and have so much to offer.” 

In Brown, the Supreme Court famously described the impact of racial discrimination on young students, noting the “feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”  As we reflect on the legacy of Brown and the work still to be done, it is worth keeping in mind not only the damaging message sent by a discriminatory education system, but also the positive message conveyed when people do come together to ensure that all children have equal access to quality education.  

 

Topic(s):
Civil Rights (including EEOC)
Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Courtesy of Karen Lash, Access to Justice Initiative Deputy Director, U.S. Department of Justice

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Sciences Program (NSF LSS), are hosting a Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop in Washington, D.C. This invitation-only workshop will bring researchers and practitioners together to further explore the existing and needed research around civil legal aid and its intersection with public safety and criminal justice. 

These workshops are important because research matters.  But since the early 1980s basic research into access to civil justice has fragmented into a number of highly specialized literatures across law and social science disciplines.  A consequence of that fragmentation is that little high quality, publicly available data exists today to guide policy and programmatic decisions. 

That’s why ATJ staff participates in a range of practitioner and academic meetings like the ones happening today, to fill the research gap.  As Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode wrote in the Journal of Legal Education, “The [ATJ] office’s interest in building bridges to legal academics prompted a meeting at Stanford University in 2011 under the sponsorship of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, the American Bar Foundation and the Harvard Program on the Legal Profession.  One result of that meeting was the creation of a Consortium on Access to Justice.  The mission of the consortium is to promote research and teaching on access to justice.” 

Building on the Stanford convening, ATJ then hosted a series of meetings that led to a National Science Foundation (NSF) workshop led by principal investigator and American Bar Foundation (ABF) Fellow Rebecca Sandefur.  The December 7-8, 2012 ABF workshop, entitled Access to Civil Justice: Re-Envisioning and Reinvigorating Research, was designed to identify key unanswered questions in access to justice central to both scholarship and practice, to open a conversation about partnerships on specific research projects and to launch a durable, national Access to Justice research program.  The workshop, coupled with inspiration from NSF’s March 13, 2013 Dear Colleague Letter - Stimulating Research Related to the Use and Functioning of the Civil Justice System, contributed to the successful applications of four joint practitioner/researcher NSF applications on a range of topics such as studying outcomes from self-help strategies and representation in housing and small claims courts.   

More recently, the March 27, 2015, remarks below by Karen Lash, Deputy Director, at the University of South Carolina School of Law Data2J Research Roundtable on Access to Justice, outlines the imperative to develop a robust body of literature in light of the Obama Administration’s evidence-based agenda that requires data to preserve, expand or propose new federal programs. 

All of this combined explains why this administration—and the Justice Department in particular—seeks new funds in the 2016 budget request for nearly $3 million to build the department’s capacity for research and data collection related to civil legal aid.    

During today’s event, a multi-disciplinary workshop will include domestic and international experts, including civil legal aid experts, researchers, government officials - including representatives of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable-, and private funders.  A discussion of the ongoing United Nations activity to establish the post-2015 sustainable development goals and likely inclusion of access to justice in that framework will be included. ATJ will generate a report summarizing the presentations and discussions, including the participants’ recommendations on a research agenda and federal priorities to advance this work.  The outcome report will be similar to a 2011 report that ATJ issued following a workshop on indigent defense research available here.  That report helped inform federal research priorities and activities on indigent defense.  We expect this civil legal aid counterpart to do the same.

For an overview of the current need for expanding available literature on civil legal aid and what works, see keynote remarks delivered last month by Karen Lash, ATJ Deputy Director, at the University of South Carolina School of Law, DATA2J Research Roundtable on Access to Justice, on March 26, 2015.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

President Obama and Attorney General Lynch attend the National Peace Officers Memorial ServiceAttorney General Lynch and President Obama attended the National Peace Officers Memorial Service today at the U.S. Capitol, an annual ceremony honoring law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. 

In his remarks, President Obama honored the 131 peace officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, and praised the bravery of our nation’s law enforcement:

It takes a special kind of courage to be a peace officer.  To be the one people turn to in their most desperate moments.  To be willing to run into a dangerous situation, when everyone else is running the other way.  Scripture tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves -- but only a special few take that commandment so deeply to heart that they are willing to risk their lives so that others -- often total strangers -- can know peace and security.  And that’s what peace officers do. 

On Wednesday night’s Annual Candlelight Vigil, Attorney General Lynch paid tribute to the law enforcement officers who had fallen:

Today, we celebrate and remember all that they were, all that they did and all that they stood for during the precious years we were privileged to have their service, their protection, their friendship and their love.  Today, we share stories of their valor, their idealism, their humor and their grace.  Today, we recommit ourselves to the high standard that they set for all of us – in the service of our country, and in support of our fellow Americans.  We are all heirs to their weighty legacy and we must be champions of those they sought to protect.

Attorney General Lynch and FBI Director James Comey at the Candlelight VigilEstablished in 1962, Police Week recognizes the service and sacrifice of U.S. law enforcement and honors law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Attorney General Lynch also attended memorials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and Bureau of Prisons. 

 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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

Americans with disabilities can face many unnecessary barriers to employment, both during the job application process and on the job.  These barriers can prevent people with disabilities from finding and maintaining a job, receiving promotions and ultimately being economically self-sufficient and independent. 

During the job application process, applicants with disabilities may not want to disclose their disabilities to potential employers for a number of reasons, including the risk that the employer would refuse to hire them because of their disability.  Sometimes employers stereotype people with disabilities or take adverse employment actions because of misinformation or ignorance about certain health conditions.  Having to disclose a disability can deter people with disabilities even from applying for jobs out of fear of discrimination. 

Recognizing these real risks, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to ask about whether an applicant has with a disability or about the nature of such disability before making a conditional offer of employment.  Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, however, federal contractors subject to affirmative action requirements must invite an applicant voluntarily to self-identify as an individual with a disability, consistent with certain requirements.  

Despite the ADA’s prohibitions, some employers still ask job applicants if they have a disability and about the nature of the disability, in violation of the ADA.  Over the past few months, the Department of Justice found that several public employers were making these kinds of inquiries right in their job applications.  To resolve these violations, the department entered into settlement agreements with nine different public entities.  These jurisdictions include the entities Parowan, Utah; Española, New Mexico; DeKalb, Illinois; Vero Beach, Florida; Fallon, Nevada; Isle of Palms, South Carolina; Hubbard, Oregon; Village of Ruidoso, New Mexico; and Florida State University. 

These settlement agreements require the entities to remove the unlawful questions from the applications and follow all requirements of the ADA with respect to job applicants and employees.  Further, to help prevent future violations, the settlement agreements require that the employees who make hiring and personnel decisions be properly trained on the requirements of the ADA.  In addition, the entities must designate an individual to address ADA compliance and report on compliance to the United States.   

Today, many job applications are completed online.  Another barrier to employment faced by some people with disabilities, such as those who are blind or have low vision, are deaf or hard of hearing, or have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity (such as limited ability to use a mouse), is that online job applications are not fully accessible to them.  Individuals with these disabilities use assistive technology, such as screen reading software and captions, to access online information.  But websites need to be designed to work with these technologies.  Without the ability to access a job application, people with disabilities will not even have the opportunity to apply for a job in the first place.  Several investigations conducted by the department found that the public entity’s online employment opportunities website or job applications were not fully accessible to people with disabilities.  To resolve these violations, the entities must ensure that their online employment opportunities website and job applications comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which are industry guidelines for making web content accessible.

Ensuring that job applications are free from unlawful questions and accessible to all applicants is essential to enable people with disabilities to find work and advance in their jobs.  With equal access to employment, hardworking Americans with disabilities can contribute as valued members of the workforce, and both justice and economic advancement are served. 

For more information on the department’s ADA Title I employment discrimination settlement agreements and consent decrees, visit www.ada.gov.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Each year, federal departments and agencies are required by law to submit a report to the Attorney General detailing various statistics regarding their agency’s FOIA activities, such as the numbers of requests processed and received, and the time taken to process them.  These Annual FOIA Reports, one-hundred in total for FY 2014, are compiled by OIP and posted on the Reports page of our site.  The data from the agency Annual FOIA Reports is also uploaded onto FOIA.gov, the Justice Department’s government-wide FOIA resource.

In order to provide agency personnel and the public with a comprehensive picture of the government’s FOIA activities during the fiscal year, OIP routinely creates a summary of the information contained within agency Annual FOIA Reports.  Today, we posted our summary of these reports for FY 2014 (PDF).  As in previous years, the summary looks at government-wide data for many key statistics in FOIA administration and highlights significant numbers reported by individual agencies.  Additionally, the summary identifies trends in FOIA processing by comparing the FY 2014 Annual FOIA Report data with data from prior fiscal years.

As described in this year’s summary, during FY 2014, agency FOIA Offices received a record high 714,231 requests while also facing several other challenges including reduced staffing, tough fiscal times, and a three week government shutdown during which requests continued to come in when there was no staff available to process them.  Managing these challenges, the government overall was able to process 647,142 requests while continuing to maintain a high release rate of over 91% for the sixth year in a row.  The government overall also improved its average processing times for simple and complex track requests. 

OIP’s Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2014 is available on our Reports page where it can be compared with previous summaries dating back to FY 2006.  The data collected in agency Annual FOIA Reports can also easily be viewed, compared, and analyzed on FOIA.gov.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Friday, May 1, 2015

Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason of the Office of Justice Programs

The responsibility for building and maintaining civic trust rests with every sector of society, from criminal and juvenile justice agencies to our human services system, and from faith-based groups to families.  In its report to the president, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing said that technologies like body-worn cameras “can improve policing practices and build community trust and legitimacy,” and recommended several actions aimed at ensuring their effective and transparent use.

Today, Attorney General Lynch announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership Program to respond to the immediate needs of local and tribal law enforcement organizations.  The investment includes $17 million in competitive grants for the purchase of body-worn cameras, $2 million for training and technical assistance and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices.  Our Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) expects to make up to 50 awards to law enforcement agencies, with about one-third of the grants directed toward smaller agencies.  The grants, which require a 50/50 in-kind or cash match, can be used to purchase equipment so long as applicants establish a strong plan for implementation and a robust training policy before purchasing the cameras.  The long-terms costs associated with storing information will be the financial responsibility of each local agency.

BJA also will launch a BWC Implementation Toolkit this month, designed as an online resource for stakeholders.  This toolkit will focus on implementation requirements, retention issues, policy concerns, interests of prosecutors, victim and privacy advocates’ concerns, and community engagement and funding considerations.

Body-worn cameras are not a cure-all, but they can be a valuable tool for planting the seeds of trust in our communities, and they will provide an additional measure of safety for law enforcement officers, who work so hard and under such tremendous pressure to protect our communities.  I am pleased to make these resources available to our partners in the law enforcement community and look forward to helping them strengthen the bonds of trust with the citizens they serve.

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