Justice Blogs

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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

Brahm at a Wrestling Tournament

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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

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

The statutory areas of conferral are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conferral Sessions Open to the Public:

1) Open Forum: Technical Assistance Needs in the Field

March 2016

2) Open Forum: Emerging Issues

April 2016

3) Open Forum: Unmet Needs

May 2016

4) Open Forum: Promising Practices in the Field

June 2016

5) Open Forum: Administration of Grants

September 2016

STOP/SASP Administrator, Coalitions, and TA Providers:

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

Written Comments:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Assessments and Internal Reviews
January 7, 2016, 10:00 am to 12 noon - NEW DATE

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.”

FOIA Post, Open Government
Monday, November 16, 2015

FOIA Infographic

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

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

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

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

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

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


FOIA Post, Open Government
Friday, November 13, 2015

Courtesy of Senior Counsel Andrew Stanner of the Office for Access to Justice

This week, the department hosted the first meeting of the Right to Counsel National Consortium, a diverse group of justice system stakeholders, from prosecutors to defense counsel to judges to advocates to public officials, brought together to address the many urgent priorities facing public defenders and the Sixth Amendment’s promise of a right to counsel.

Panel discussion at the Panel at the Right to Counsel National Consortium inaugural meetingAdvancing the right to counsel is, of course, central to our mission at Office for Access to Justice (ATJ), but it is also especially personal for me.  Before I came to ATJ last year, I spent seven years as a public defender in Washington, D.C.

Being a public defender is not just a job, it is an act of public service and an expression of civic virtue.  But as we know, not everyone intuitively understands or appreciates the essential and honorable work that public defenders do.  

At Access to Justice, our goal is to put the full weight of the Department of Justice behind all those who seek to vindicate the Sixth Amendment rights of low income people throughout the country. 

Among the many pressing concerns for the Right to Counsel Consortium, perhaps none is more important than challenging the systematic waiver of that right around the country.  All too often, we see what happens to people – particularly those of limited means – when they do not have the guiding hand of counsel in their dealings with the court.  Americans who lack the money to hire a lawyer simply cannot vindicate their rights in court.  

Part of our work here at the department includes collaboration with the Office of Justice Programs, to ensure that defenders have ever greater access to federal funding.  ATJ worked with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop a multi-million dollar grant program – Answering Gideon’s Call – that helps jurisdictions implement one or more of the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.  BJA also enlisted our help with the $2 Million Smart Defense Initiative.

Apart from these targeted defender grants, ATJ has worked with BJA to better promote the use of Byrne/JAG dollars for indigent defense.  Byrne/JAG is the department’s single biggest funding stream for local justice assistance, but the Department of Justice does not dictate how it is spent.  Those decisions are made by local and state committees. ATJ has worked to make defenders part of those committees; we offered assistance to BJA when they re-wrote the Byrne/JAG solicitation to make indigent defense a top priority for department funds; we have reached out to defender organizations and produced webinars explaining how best to access federal funds and we have spoken directly to the state and local administrators themselves.

ATJ also does significant work to improve access to skilled and well trained counsel in Indian country.  We work very closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Tribal Justice Support to make sure that those tribal courts that wish to pursue a western model have the resources and training to do so, and that they are staffed with a capable and well-resourced defender.

Still, there remains much more that needs to be done.  We need a well-funded, well-staffed, well-trained public defender office in every county and state in the country, for both adults and juveniles.  We want to promote access to counsel at first appearance, regardless of what the law requires, because it is good public policy.  We need to increase access to counsel in misdemeanor and traffic cases, because we are all too familiar with the abuses that occur in the absence of a defense attorney.  

We also want to re-conceptualize public defenders altogether.  Many think that people need public defenders so that they can go to trial and win, but the overwhelming number of public defender clients will never even get near a trial.  Rather, we need to promote holistic defense, either within public defender offices themselves, or by connecting public defenders with strong civil legal aid organizations to provide many of the civil-side legal services – mental health advocates, disability attorneys, housing lawyers, education advocates and immigration attorneys – that make a defender office holistic.  People who come into contact with the criminal justice system often do so because they are in the throes of addiction, because they are suffering from emerging or persistent mental health issues, because they are dealing with crippling family strife or because they have educational disabilities or other needs that are unidentified or unmet.  A public defender office needs to be in a position to deal with all of these eventualities.

This group has tremendous promise. There is nothing that matters more to us at Access to Justice than upholding and enhancing the right to counsel. 

Posted in:
Friday, November 13, 2015

As we celebrate Native American Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Department of Justice is working to open gateways to full participation for people with disabilities in Native American communities.  Native Americans have among the highest rates of disability in the United States.  This month, we are highlighting the story of a Native American family who will benefit from the Department of Justice’s work to improve access to parks and playgrounds in Robeson County, North Carolina.  Robeson County is geographically the largest and poorest county in North Carolina, with almost 32 percent living below the poverty level.  Its total population is over 130,000, and is 39.5 percent Native American.   

Pictured: Jayla and her family

One of Robeson County’s residents is 9-year old Jayla.  She loves sports and playing outside and is a member of the Lumbee Nation.  Jayla has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.  She looks forward to going to the playground with her younger siblings, but she can’t play in any of the county’s playgrounds because the playgrounds have a large rubber border and their surface is sand.  Jayla’s wheelchair can’t get over the border and once she is inside the border, her wheels can’t get traction in the sand.  Further, none of the elements in the playgrounds are accessible to her.

Jayla’s parents don’t want to bring their children to play in a playground that Jayla can’t enjoy, so no one goes.

Soon, Jayla’s exclusion from the playground will become a thing of the past.  This past July, Robeson County and the Justice Department reached an agreement under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.  One of the hallmarks of the agreement is that Robeson will bring two of its playgrounds into compliance with current ADA standards so that Jayla can play there, together with her siblings. http://www.ada.gov/robeson_co_pca/robeson_sa.html

The Justice Department also reached a PCA agreement this year with San Juan County, New Mexico, which is located along the eastern boundary of the Navajo Nation reservation and is 39 percent Native American. http://www.ada.gov/san_juan_co_pca/san_juan_sa.html.  The agreements with Robeson County and San Juan County will ensure that county facilities, services, programs and activities are fully accessible to people with disabilities, including the large Native American populations that live in those counties. 

Over the past 15 years, nearly 220 communities have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to ensure that their citizens with disabilities enjoy the same services, programs and activities that all others enjoy.  For more information about the ADA, the Robeson and San Juan agreements, PCA or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for state and local governments, individuals may access the ADA Web page at http://www.ada.gov/civicac.htm or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Note: The legislative package can be found at the following link: Servicemembers Legislative Package.

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery

The Department of Justice announces legislative package to bolster efforts to protect servicemembers and veterans

On Veterans Day, it is our honor as Americans to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces.  We commemorate those individuals who risk their lives to preserve and defend our liberties, and give thanks to the many families at home and abroad who support them.

When the Justice Department launched the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative last March, we set in motion a dynamic engine to drive enforcement, outreach and training efforts on behalf of servicemembers, veterans and their families.  It is our responsibility to protect these individuals from financial scams, to preserve their right to return to their civilian employment after active duty and to strengthen their ability to cast a ballot when they are overseas.  When our servicemembers and veterans have peace of mind that their rights are protected at home, our nation is stronger.

In an effort to enhance the department’s ability to protect servicemembers, we recently submitted to Congress a legislative package of amendments to existing laws.  The proposed amendments require parties seeking default judgments against servicemembers to check Department of Defense records to determine duty status, making it more difficult for unscrupulous creditors to take advantage of servicemembers on active duty.  The amendments also increase penalties that employers, as well as lending and rental businesses, will face for violating laws designed to protect servicemembers.  The legislative proposals expand the number and types of cases the United States can bring in defense of servicemembers attempting to return to their civilian employment upon completion of their military service, and the available remedies for violations of the voting rights of servicemembers and their families while they are overseas.  And the proposed amendments seek to protect military families by affording dependent family members the same state residency rights as the servicemember, as well as requiring states to recognize a servicemember spouse’s professional licensures from other states.  These changes will not only enhance the department’s ability to bring enforcement actions, but also allow these men and women to assert their rights on their own.  It is my hope that Congress will quickly take action on these amendments. 

The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative is also working diligently to increase the availability and efficacy of our current enforcement programs on behalf of servicemembers and veterans.  Effective enforcement requires a strong relationship between the civilian and military professionals who work jointly on these issues, and so, on Oct. 19, the department convened a meeting of the Judge Advocates General of all the military services and brought them together with our civilian partners from the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

At this gathering, we strategized about how our respective departments can continue to work together in support of efforts to protect the rights of our men and women in the Armed Forces.  We talked about the power of collaboration across service boundaries and among all relevant branches of the federal government.  We pledged to join forces to identify common problems and to come up with joint solutions.  And we pledged to collaborate on our educational outreach to ensure that servicemembers have the tools to protect themselves from fraud and other illegal schemes.

We also discussed the significant impact one individual’s complaint can have to bring about redress and relief for thousands.  When servicemembers know that there are laws designed specifically to protect them from consumer fraud or violations of their civil rights, we empower them to speak up for themselves and report these abuses.  As one young airman said to his commanding officer after a successful prosecution of a predatory lender, “The amazing part is that one person can stand up for what is right and it works.”

The convening of Judge Advocates General was the latest step in our efforts to work closely with our military partners to ensure that we are identifying the most effective ways to protect the rights and interests of the military community.  From recent visits to Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Stewart in Georgia to our ongoing enforcement efforts, we continue to spread the message that the department is committed to protecting servicemembers and their families from fraud and abuse. 

If we do our jobs well, we will allow servicemembers to focus on their mission of protecting the country and help veterans take their rightful place in the America that they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend.  

Servicemembers Initiative
Wednesday, November 4, 2015

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

President Obama has said, “At its heart, America is a nation of second chances.”  His visit to a Newark, New Jersey residential drug treatment center and his conversation with its clients on Monday highlighted his commitment to helping those who have paid their debt to society return to their communities ready to make a contribution.

The Department of Justice is proud to help lead the Administration’s reentry efforts.  The Federal Interagency Reentry Council, chaired by Attorney General Lynch and joined by the heads of 23 federal agencies, is working to remove barriers to successful reentry and reduce the collateral consequences of incarceration.  The Office of Justice Programs recently awarded $53 million under the Second Chance Act to support local adult and juvenile reentry programs across the country, adding to the hundreds of communities already receiving Second Chance Act funding from our Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Effective reentry is not just a by-product of public safety, it is integral to it.  Almost all incarcerated persons – 95 percent of them – will return to their communities.  It is critical that they come out of correctional facilities equipped to lead productive, crime-free lives.  Their success and our safety are intertwined.

Many states are recognizing the close connection between reintegration and community safety and have been working diligently, across disciplines and with hands across the political aisle, to keep people from coming back into the criminal justice system.  Through our Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the Bureau of Justice Assistance – in partnership with the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center – has invested in the efforts of 29 states to overhaul their corrections and criminal justice policies and refocus resources on community supervision and other diversion alternatives.  As a result, they are driving down their prisoner populations, lowering recidivism, and saving money, showing that it is possible both to cut incarceration rates and reduce crime.

For instance, North Carolina has closed 10 prisons and used some of the savings to add 175 probation and parole officers and invest in intervention and treatment programs.  Now, a substantially greater number of people with felony convictions are exiting prison to supervision – rather than straight to the street – and the number of people on probation revoked to prison has fallen by half since the law was passed.  At the same time, the state has experienced an 11percent drop in the crime rate. In Pennsylvania, a law enacted three years ago based on a Justice Reinvestment analysis has helped to send the prison population down by more than 700 individuals, and the three-year return-to-prison rate has dropped seven percent.  Meanwhile, the state is reinvesting some of its savings in strengthening victim services, expanding the use of risk assessment tools, building capacity in local probation departments, and supporting data-driven crime prevention efforts.

Our investments – including those through the Second Chance Act and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative – are paying substantial dividends, both by enabling formerly incarcerated persons to make a fresh start and, even more importantly, by improving the safety of the neighborhoods to which they return.  By building on this momentum – providing a second chance to those who have earned it and making our justice system smarter and more fair – we are offering the possibility of redemption to individuals and a safer, stronger future to our communities.

Friday, October 30, 2015

This week the Department of Justice’s Office of Tribal Justice hosted the Tribal Nations Leadership Council, established in 2010 to provide the Attorney General with advice, experience, and knowledge about public safety, criminal justice, and other critical issues facing American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  The council met with Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery who described the department’s efforts to address public safety and to strengthen tribal sovereignty.  The TNLC also heard from senior leadership and staff from throughout the department’s law enforcement, grant making, and litigating components.  The TNLC provided suggestions to improve the department’s grant programs, its support for tribal youth and the implementation of special domestic violence jurisdiction in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, and expanding tribal access to federal criminal justice databases, among other topics.

Tribal Nations Leadership Council Members

“The Department of Justice is committed to working with tribal partners to create stronger, safer, and healthier communities for all American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.  “Since its founding five years ago, the Tribal Nations Leadership Council has been a crucial part of that effort, offering a vital forum for dialogue, discussion, and cooperation between tribal leaders and department officials.  I am proud of our close collaboration with sovereign tribal governments, and excited about the work we will continue to do together to advance progress and ensure opportunity for every individual on tribal lands.”

The TNLC includes the following members:

  • Michael J. Stickman, First Chief, Nulato Village (Alaska Region)
  • Lynn Malerba, Chief, The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut (Eastern Region)
  • Ron Sparkman, Chairman, Shawnee Tribe (Eastern Oklahoma Region)
  • Dave Archambault, II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Great Plains Region)
  • Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (Midwest Region)
  • Russell Begaye, President, Navajo Nation (Navajo Region)
  • W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman/Executive Director, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe (Northwest Region)
  • Juana Majel Dixon, Councilwoman, Pauma-Yuima Band of Mission Indians (Pacific Region)
  • Merlin Sioux, Council Member, Northern Cheyenne Tribe (Rocky Mountain Region)
  • John Barrett, Jr., Chairman, Citizen Potawatomi Nation (Southern Plains Region)
  • Gary Hayes, Council Member, Ute Mountain Tribe of the Ute Mountain Reservation (Southwest Region)
Tribal Justice
Friday, October 30, 2015

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an opportunity to pause as a nation and collectively reflect on the dynamics and impact of interpersonal violence; to recognize the lived experiences of women and men who have been victimized at the hands of an intimate partner; and, to celebrate the strength and will of survivors. 

DVAM, however, is more than a time to spread awareness. 

Domestic violence affects millions of Americans, including 1 in 4 women in their lifetime.  With a problem of this scale, the month of October is a reminder of the work that’s been done – and which still remains – to end the violence and to prevent future generations from experiencing its harmful effects.  DVAM is a call to action.  Indeed, in the 2015 National Domestic Violence Awareness Month Proclamation, President Obama affirms:

“Safeguarding and opening doors of opportunity for every American will remain a driving focus for our country – and we know that crimes like domestic violence inhibit our Nation from reaching its fullest potential. This month, let us once again pledge our unwavering support to those in need and recognize the advocates, victim service providers, and organizations who work tirelessly to extend hope and healing to survivors and victims every day.”

Over the last 20 years, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has supported the efforts of those on the front lines to answer the call.  After the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on September 13, 1994, OVW was created the following year and tasked with leading the Federal government in helping communities to implement this groundbreaking legislation.   Specifically, OVW administers grant programs and provides training and technical assistance for criminal justice agencies, victim service organizations, and other state, local, and tribal entities to combat not only domestic violence, but also sexual assault, dating violence, sex trafficking, and stalking.  

Highlights from this past year alone demonstrate the unique ways in which OVW’s financial and technical assistance offer opportunities for communities to develop, strengthen, and sustain their anti-violence efforts:

  • In honor of VAWA’s 20th anniversary, last October OVW embarked on a year-long national tour, meeting with advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, healthcare professionals, and other leaders across the country to learn more about their initiatives to curb domestic and sexual violence.  OVW gathered vital information about the impact of VAWA funding as well as both victories and challenges communities experience in addressing violence.
  • The tour inspired robust dialogue with stakeholders on a wide range of issues, including the importance of assessing and improving the coordinated community response – a cornerstone of effective violence prevention.  In addition, persistent service needs were identified, such as: safe and affordable housing options for survivors, more victim-centered legal services, trauma-informed approaches within healthcare settings, and culturally-specific services with an understanding of the distinct ways in which domestic violence impacts vulnerable populations, such as women of color, those living in poverty, LGBT individuals, and women with disabilities.
  • Momentum around implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) accelerated over the last year, prompting a need for additional OVW response. 
  • In April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule to implement the VAWA 2013 protections in nearly all HUD programs. The final rule will more adequately support victims desiring to leave their abusers by reducing fear of homelessness and housing discrimination. OVW has provided input on the proposed rule and will collaborate with grantees and other stakeholders to support effective implementation of the final rule.
  • In March, another VAWA 2013 provision took effect that increases protection for Native women by recognizing a “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” over persons who commit this crime in Indian country.  Tribes now have the authority to charge and prosecute all offenders who commit acts of domestic violence on their lands. In DOJ’s upcoming Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation in November, this critical provision and related topics concerning violence against Native women will be discussed.
  • OVW funding supported the development of several comprehensive online resources for advocates, service providers, policymakers, and others this year.
  • This summer, OVW announced The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture, a clearinghouse on domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking for institutions of higher education.  The website provides the latest information, materials, and resources for administrators, faculty and staff, law enforcement, victim service providers, students, parents and others invested in improving campus safety and the wellbeing of college and university students.

Finally, OVW grant support is playing a key role in realizing an improved criminal justice response to crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault.  OVW released a $2.8 million funding opportunity for a Sexual Assault Justice Initiative to improve prosecutions and the justice system’s overall handling of sexual assault cases.  Additionally, over $26 million in OVW grants were recently awarded to strengthen arrest policies, enforcement of protection orders, and partnerships between criminal justice agencies and community-based organizations striving to improve victim safety and offender accountability.

As the President reminds us, “Though we have made great progress in bringing awareness to and providing protections against domestic violence, much work remains to be done.” This October, OVW joins its Federal and community partners in looking back at our successes while also marching forward to continue the momentum.  Month to month, step by step, we can change our culture and break the cycle of violence for good.


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

Friday, October 30, 2015

OJJDP Youth Justice Awareness

Courtesy by Robert L. Listenbee, OJJDP Administrator

Here at OJJDP, we are committed to improving juvenile justice policies and practices. Every day, we look for opportunities to strengthen the juvenile justice system’s efforts to protect public safety, provide the appropriate services to meet the needs of our nation’s youth, and ensure that young people who come in contact with the system are treated fairly.

I was thrilled when President Barack Obama proclaimed October 2015 as National Youth Justice Awareness Month, which highlighted our mission to a larger audience.

In his proclamation, the President recognized our Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative. This initiative—a collection of juvenile justice programs—lies at the heart of what we do at OJJDP. By leveraging public-private partnerships, we’re working to assist states in adopting a data-driven and evidence-based approach to juvenile justice reform.

I’m proud that the work of our office is being lifted up by the White House, particularly at a time when many young people are in need of assistance.

Every year, there are more than 1 million arrests of youth younger than 18, and the vast majority of those arrests are for nonviolent crimes. More than 54,000 individuals younger than 21 are being held in juvenile justice facilities nationwide—a disproportionate number of whom are young people of color.  And, girls represent the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with girls of color particularly affected by this trend.

The good news is the number of young people in residential placement was cut in half from 1999 to 2013. However, despite this overall decline, the placement rate for youth of color was 2.7 times that of white youth in 2013. Overall, minority youth accounted for 68 percent of the youth in residential placement.

Our Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative has experienced great success in its first year, and in our March/April newsletter we shared an update on the impact it’s having locally.

Partnering with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, three states—Georgia, Hawaii, and Kentucky—have implemented statewide juvenile justice reforms that are producing positive results.

In just one year, Georgia reduced the number of youth in confinement by 62 percent. Youth held in secure facilities declined by 14 percent, and the number of youth in detention fell from 269 to 157.

It is our goal for more states to replicate the success of Smart on Juvenile Justice and focus less on detention or out-of-home placement and more on early intervention, diversion, and community-based programs.

For more information on the Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative, please watch my video message where I discuss the initiative and some of the encouraging results we’ve seen thus far.

Although National Youth Justice Awareness Month is dedicated to preventing youth from entering the juvenile justice system and encouraging communities to participate in activities that help youth fulfill their greatest potential, the work here at OJJDP continues year-round.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

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

Six years ago this week, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the federal definition of hate crimes, enhancing the legal toolkit available to prosecutors and increasing the ability of federal law enforcement to support our state and local partners.  This law signaled to the world an enduring commitment to the most fundamental of American values, and it voiced an unwavering belief in the strength of our diversity.             

The anniversary of the Shepard-Byrd Act presents an opportunity to evaluate our progress and renew our dedication to eradicating hate-driven violence.  As head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, I have the privilege of working alongside a team of dedicated colleagues to enforce the law in pursuit of equal justice and equal opportunity for all Americans.  The Shepard-Byrd Act strengthened our capacity to advance that mission.  It added new federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.  And it removed unnecessary jurisdictional obstacles that interfered with our prosecution of racially and religiously-motivated violence.

Working with our U.S. Attorney colleagues across the country, during the past seven years, we’ve charged 236 defendants with hate crimes.  These cases involve horrifying details, but they help highlight the impact of this monumental law.  We recently completed a Mississippi case, where 10 people conspired to harass and assault African Americans in the Jackson area, disparagingly calling it “Jafrica.”  One night, their terror culminated in the death of an African-American man, who several of the individuals assaulted and then ran over in a pickup truck as they yelled “White Power.”  Our legal team won convictions against each of the 10 defendants.  Just last month, in a Texas case, two men pleaded guilty to hate crime offenses in their assault on a gay, African-American man.  Using racial and homophobic slurs, the defendants viciously punched, kicked and sodomized the man before pouring bleach over his face and eyes.  And we’ve also paid special attention to the increase in crimes targeting Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian victims since 9/11.  For example, in 2011, in one of our first prosecutions following the passage of the act, a former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee in Minnesota pleaded guilty to hate crime charges for assaulting an elderly Somali man because he believed he was Muslim and an African immigrant.

In addition to our criminal prosecutions, we’re also engaging directly with local communities.  The Department of Justice has organized a series of regional trainings – in Mississippi and California earlier this year, in Oregon this week, and in Kansas and Florida next month – and we are grateful to Matthew Shepard’s parents for participating in these sessions.  We aim to train local and federal law enforcement in how to recognize, investigate and prove hate crimes; to educate communities and engage them in the process of ensuring public safety; and to encourage better hate crime reporting and data collection.  When we bring together a diverse group of stakeholders – from different professions, backgrounds and walks of life – we see law enforcement and community leaders commit to work together to prevent and respond more effectively to hate-motivated violence.

Nearly two decades after two men died from the most barbaric and hateful of crimes – Matthew Shepard brutalized, then left to die on a fence, and James Byrd Jr. chained to a truck before being dragged to his death for miles – this landmark law reminds us of their legacies and the urgent work ahead.  It teaches us that our legal system must protect all people – regardless of what they look like, where they worship, whom they love and whether they have a disability – from hateful violence.  And it reminds us that so long as hate exists in America, we cannot fulfill the promise of our founding ideals.

At a White House ceremony after he signed the law six years ago, President Obama told the nation that while we may struggle to comprehend the thoughts of those who commit such heinous and hateful crimes, “we sense where such cruelty begins: the moment we fail to see in another our common humanity – the very moment when we fail to recognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and imperfections, the same dreams that we all share.”  Today, on this anniversary, let us search for that common humanity.  Let us discover those passions and dreams that bring us together.  And let us find the desire we share for a more perfect, more free and more just America. 

Hate Crimes
Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Third Open Government National Action Plan CoverThis week, representatives from the United States Government and the Department of Justice are joining 1,500 participants from governments and civil society organizations around the globe to participate in the 2015 Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit. Founded in 2011, the Partnership has grown from eight to sixty-six participating countries committed to working both domestically and internationally to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and transform the way the governments serve and engage with the public. Each participating member of the OGP is required to work with civil society to develop an Open Government National Action Plan (NAP), and today the Department is excited to highlight the issuance of the United States' third National Action Plan.

Each country's NAP covers a two year period and includes specific and measurable commitments that advance transparency, accountability, participation and/or technological innovation. The United States' third NAP released yesterday represents its most ambitious and extensive plan consisting of forty-five commitments on a wide range of actions the Administration will take over coming months to strengthen, deepen and expand upon our open government efforts. As with the prior two NAPs, the Department of Justice is proud to be working on a number of initiatives, which promote the principals of open government and together will improve public services, access to information, government integrity and the administration of justice.These commitments include:

Open Government to Improve Public Services

  • Making it easier for individuals to access their own information. DOJ will assist an interagency team led by OPM, GSA, and the Department of Commerce to develop new authentication tools to protect individual privacy and ensure that personal records only go to the intended recipients.

Access to Information

  • Modernizing the implementation of the FOIA. Building on its efforts to improve the government-wide administration of the FOIA, the Department will expand the services offered on FOIA.gov, conduct a proactive disclosure pilot for posting FOIA-released records online, and improve agency FOIA websites.
  • Strengthening and improving transparency of privacy safeguards. The Administration will revise and reconstitute guidance to agencies on the collection and protection of individuals’ personally identifiable information.
  • Enhancing transparency of Federal use of investigative technologies. As law enforcement and homeland security have employed new technologies, such as unmanned aircraft systems, the Administration has recognized that these must be used in a manner that protects the privacy and civil liberties of the public. Agencies are encouraged to develop and make public a privacy analysis for advanced technologies.

Government Integrity

  • Increasing transparency of foreign intelligence surveillance activities. The Administration will increase efforts to make information regarding foreign intelligence surveillance activities more publicly available, while continuing to protect such information when disclosure could harm national security. 
  • Strengthening whistleblower protection for government employees. The Department of Justice will propose revisions to its regulations providing whistleblower protection procedures for employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), including proposing to expand the list of officials to whom protected disclosures may be made. Additionally, the Department will continue to evaluate and update its mandatory training program to ensure all employees understand their rights and responsibilities under whistleblower protection laws.

Justice and Law Enforcement

  • Expand Access to Justice to promote Federal programs. The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, co-led by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Justice, works to raise awareness about the profound impact that legal aid programs can have in advancing efforts to promote access to health and housing, education and employment, family stability, and public safety. On September 24, 2015, President Obama issued a memorandum intended to institutionalize this Roundtable, expand the participating agencies, and include consideration of equal access to justice for low-income people in both the civil and criminal justice systems. The Roundtable will seek input from civil society, and will annually report on the progress of this work.

Since the signing of both his FOIA and Transparency and Open Government memoranda on his first full day in office, President Obama has committed to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.” The U.S. published its first NAP in 2011, with twenty-six commitments that have increased public integrity, enhanced public access to information, improved management of public resources, and given the public a more active voice in the U.S. Government’s policymaking process. In 2013, the U.S. released its second NAP, which included twenty-three commitments. In 2014, the Administration added three additional commitments to the second NAP and further expanded one existing commitment, bringing the total for that plan to twenty-six.  

The forty-five commitments in the third NAP issued yesterday build on the commitments fulfilled in the prior two plans. In putting together the third NAP, the U.S. engaged in unprecedented consultations inside and outside of government, including with a broad range of U.S. departments and agencies and subnational governments as well as the general public, civil society groups, foundations, academia, and the private sector. The Department is proud to have worked with the Administration and civil society on the formulation of the plan issued yesterday and looks forward to working on the commitments noted above. 

FOIA Post, Open Government
Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cortesía de la Secretaria de Justicia Auxiliar Adjunta Principal Vanita Gupta, líder de la División de Derechos Civiles

Del 15 de septiembre al 15 de octubre, los Estados Unidos celebra el Mes de la Herencia Hispana. Para conmemorar el Mes de la Herencia Hispana, la División ha creado dos mapas nacionales que destacan un aspecto importante y a menudo pasado por alto de las comunidades hispanas:  las personas que se identifican como hispanohablantes y las personas con dominio limitado del inglés (LEP, por sus siglas en inglés). Aunque estos mapas se refieren a este aspecto de las comunidades hispanas, reconocemos que en las comunidades hispanas hay gran diversidad. Las comunidades hispanas incluyen a personas que dominan bien el inglés y también a personas LEP. Español es uno de los muchos idiomas que se hablan en la comunidad hispana y no todos quienes se identifican como LEP hablan español como primer idioma. Con esto en mente, los mapas que publicamos demuestran que los hispanohablantes LEP componen una porción significativa de la población LEP a nivel nacional. En casi la mitad de los estados del país al menos 100,000 personas se identifican como parte de este grupo.

La División de Derechos Civiles del Departamento de Justicia está comprometida a proteger los derechos de todos los individuos, independientemente de su capacidad de hablar el idioma inglés. A medida que las entidades se preparan para satisfacer las necesidades de sus clientes y constituyentes, es importante entender cuáles idiomas predominan en sus comunidades. La información demográfica es una herramienta importante para planificar acceso lingüístico y hacer valer los derechos civiles. Por ejemplo, una agencia estatal que esté llevando a cabo una investigación a nivel estatal podría utilizar estos mapas como punto de partida para determinar si necesita proporcionar intérpretes que hablen español o traducir materiales al español  para comunicarse con denunciantes o testigos LEP durante visitas sobre el terreno y también determinar si servicios en otros idiomas serían necesarios. Después de revisar los mapas, una agencia estatal de servicios de emergencias puede darse cuenta que su estado tiene un gran número de residentes hispanohablantes LEP y decida incorporar a los medios de comunicación locales en español a su plan de difusión y divulgación. Con mejor entendimiento del número y distribución de los hispanohablantes LEP en todo el país, una agencia federal puede tomar decisiones sobre traducir formularios y proveer información de contacto y otros materiales importantes en su página Web.

Los datos subyacentes de los mapas provienen de la Encuesta de la Comunidad Estadounidense (ACS, por sus siglas en inglés) del 2008-2012 de la Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos.  Esperamos que los beneficiarios de fondos federales utilicen nuestros mapas de idiomas para informar sus esfuerzos de implementar las leyes contra la discriminación, tales como el Título VI de la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964. El Título VI prohíbe que los beneficiarios de fondos federales, tales como los departamentos de policía, agencias de transportación, hospitales, escuelas, tribunales, y entidades gubernamentales estatales y locales, discriminen por razón de raza, color u origen nacional, incluyendo discriminación por dominio limitado del idioma inglés. La Orden Ejecutiva 13166 extiende los principios de acceso lingüístico a las agencias federales y prevemos que las agencias federales también usarán estos mapas con el fin de actualizar e implementar sus políticas, planes y procedimientos de acceso lingüístico.

El dominio limitado del inglés ocurre por todo los Estados Unidos, tanto en las comunidades hispanas como en las de otras etnias mientras los inmigrantes y otras personas LEP aprenden el idioma inglés. Nuestros mapas sobre los hispanohablantes LEP en los Estados Unidos van acompañados de la aplicación Mapa de Idiomas de la División, que lanzamos en honor del decimoquinto aniversario de la Orden Ejecutiva 13166, y también de los Mapas de Idiomas Nacionales de Asia y las Islas del Pacífico que lanzamos en conmemoración del Mes de la Herencia de los Americanos Asiáticos Pacíficos en mayo. Entidades federales, estatales y locales deben considerar esta información y tomar medidas para asegurar que tienen en vigor servicios lingüísticos  que proporcionen a personas y comunidades LEP acceso significativo a sus programas y servicios. Todos estos mapas, así como muchas otras herramientas y recursos de acceso lingüístico están disponibles en www.lep.gov/.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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

From September 15 through October 15, the United States recognizes National Hispanic Heritage Month.  To mark National Hispanic Heritage Month, the division has created two national maps that highlight an important and often overlooked aspect of Hispanic communities: individuals who identify as Spanish-speaking and limited English proficient (LEP).  Though these maps concern this aspect of Hispanic communities, we recognize that within Hispanic communities there is a great deal of diversity.  Hispanic communities include individuals who are fluent in English as well as those who are LEP.  Spanish is one among many languages that are spoken in Hispanic communities, and not all Hispanic individuals who identify as LEP speak Spanish as their first language.  With that in mind, the maps we release today demonstrate that Spanish-speaking LEP individuals make up a significant portion of our country’s LEP population, with almost half of all states home to at least 100,000 people who identify as part of this group.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the rights of all individuals regardless of their ability to speak the English language.  As entities prepare to meet the needs of their constituents and customers, it is important to understand what languages are prevalent in their communities.  Population data serves as an important tool for language access planning and civil rights enforcement.  For example, a state agency conducting a state-wide investigation could use these maps as a starting point to determine whether it may need to arrange for Spanish language interpreters or translated materials to communicate with LEP complainants or witnesses during site-visits, and whether services in other languages may also be necessary.  After reviewing the maps, a state emergency management agency may realize that its state contains a large number of Spanish-speaking LEP residents and decide to incorporate local Spanish-language media outlets into its notification and outreach plan.  With an improved understanding of the number and distribution of Spanish-speaking LEP individuals across the country, a federal agency may decide to translate forms, contact information, and other important materials on its website.

We hope that recipients of federal funding will use our language maps to inform their compliance efforts under the nondiscrimination laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VI prohibits recipients of federal funding – such as police departments, transit agencies, hospitals, schools, courts, and state and local government entities – from discriminating on the basis of race, color, and national origin, including discrimination on the basis of limited English proficiency.  Executive Order 13166 extends language access principles to federal agencies and we anticipate that federal agencies will also use these maps when updating and implementing their language access policies, plans, and procedures.

Limited English proficiency occurs throughout the United States, both among Hispanic communities and those of other ethnic backgrounds as immigrants and other individuals learn the English language.  Our LEP maps noting the numbers of Spanish-speaking individuals throughout the U.S. are companions to the division’s Language Map App, which we launched in honor of the 15th anniversary of Executive Order 13166, and the Asian and Pacific Islander National Language Maps, which we launched in recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month last May.  Federal, state, and local entities should consider this information and take steps to ensure that they have in place the necessary language services to provide LEP individuals and communities with meaningful access to their programs and services.  All of these maps, as well as many other language access tools and resources, are available at www.lep.gov/.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

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

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the Civil Rights Division is highlighting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a gateway to equal opportunity in the workplace.  Work is a fundamental part of adult life for people with and without disabilities.  It provides a sense of purpose, shaping who we are and how we fit into our community.  Meaningful work – being a contributing part of society – is essential to people’s economic self-sufficiency, as well as self-esteem and well-being.  This year, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, the Department of Justice is breaking down barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities through its enforcement efforts.

Enforcing Title I of the ADA against State and Local Government Employers

State and local governments play a significant role in our workforce and can be leaders in employing the skills and talents of American workers with disabilities.  This year, the department has reached agreements with a number of state and local government employers to remove discriminatory attitudes and barriers in the job application process.

Just this month, the department settled an employment lawsuit against Riverside County, California.  The county had refused to hire an applicant as a youth probation officer because he had controlled epilepsy, even though the applicant could perform all of the essential job duties.  The county’s decision, which was based on outdated and stereotypical attitudes about epilepsy, was illegal.  Under the consent decree, the county has agreed to pay the job applicant $50,000, offer the probation officer position, train its hiring personnel on the ADA and report on compliance.

Earlier this year, the department reached settlements with six different municipalities to remove illegal disability-related questions on employment applications.  Under the ADA, employers may not ask disability-related questions on an employment application because those questions may deter people with disabilities from applying for jobs, and employers may use that information to discriminate against such applicants.  An employer may, however, ask applicants if they are able to perform specific job tasks.  The following six different municipalities and one state university from across the country have now removed the disability-related questions from their online employment applications: Parowan, Utah; Ruidoso, New Mexico; Fallon, Nevada; Isle of Palms, South Carolina; Vero Beach, Florida; DeKalb, Illinois; and Florida State University

As a result of these and other Title I enforcement actions by the department, individuals with disabilities now have a fairer chance to succeed at work, and both justice and economic advancement are served.

Enforcing Title II of the ADA regarding Integrated and Supported Employment Services by States

The department has in recent years been engaged in aggressive efforts to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., a ruling that requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities.  Through this work, the department has advanced the civil rights of thousands of individuals with disabilities who have been unnecessarily segregated in employment settings called sheltered workshops.  Sheltered workshops are institutional settings where participants are segregated from the community and paid well below the minimum wage.  Just last month, the department and private plaintiffs reached a groundbreaking agreement with the state of Oregon to resolve the federal lawsuit Lane v. Brown.  Under the settlement agreement, over 6,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will receive supported employment services to give them opportunities to work in real jobs at competitive wages. 

These and other efforts are leading to reform of state systems; a number of states are moving away from using sheltered workshops in favor of expanding supported employment for people with disabilities, to better provide integrated employment opportunities. 

Through its vigorous enforcement, the department is helping to fulfill the ADA’s promise of equal employment opportunity and full inclusion.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Courtesy of Director Lisa Foster of the Office for Access to Justice


“Providing meaningful access to justice is a national responsibility and a moral charge.  I am delighted by President Obama's action to expand legal aid resources for Americans in need, and excited for all that the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable will achieve as it works to advance opportunity, promote equality, and ensure justice for all.” – Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

What do 20 federal agencies, the United Nations, and civil legal aid have in common?  Plenty, according to President Obama who recently issued a presidential memorandum formally establishing the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR).  The presidential memorandum was announced by Roy Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity as well as Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at an event held on the eve of the UN's Sustainable Development Summit in New York.  The event highlighted the inclusion of Goal 16 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Goal 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, for access to justice for all and for the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.  With Goal 16, the international community has recognized that access to justice is essential to sustainable development and necessary to end poverty.

As the memorandum points out, LAIR is comprised of 20 federal agencies working together “to help the most vulnerable and underserved among us. . . By encouraging Federal departments and agencies to collaborate, share best practices, and consider the impact of legal services on the success of their programs, the Federal Government can enhance access to justice in our communities.”  Included in LAIR's mission is to assist the United States with implementation of Goal 16.

Initially conceived of and staffed by the Department of Justice's Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) in 2012, LAIR's accomplishments and ongoing activities include:

  • more than two dozen grants involving reentry, access to health care, citizenship, homeless veterans and other federal priorities have been clarified to allow legal services that further program goals;
  • more than two dozen webinars and other presentations to federal grantees, the civil legal aid community and federal agency staff about how legal aid advances federal priorities;
  • new training and technical assistance opportunities;
  • new research about civil legal aid;
  • launch of LAIR Toolkit on ATJ’s website, an online resource guide containing useful information about civil legal services, and how those services can help advance a broad array of Federal objectives;
  • international engagement by highlighting LAIR’s efforts through activities related to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States by the United Nations Human Rights Council, such as a civil society consultation on access to justice in April 2014 and reporting of LAIR efforts as examples of domestic human rights activities in the United States’ 2015 UPR submission; and
  • the 2014 Government Service Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

In her speech, Ambassador Power said: “Access to legal services matter, and it is what can make the difference . . . for tangible individuals with faces and families; in a victim of domestic violence obtaining a restraining order; a homeless veteran getting housing assistance - ten more of whom become homeless in American every day; and a working mom receiving child support. . . .That is why the presidential memorandum . . . that President Obama signed today - which makes permanent an effort to increase access to services for the poor across 20 government agencies - is so important.”

Roy Austin said: "It has been a privilege to co-chair the LAIR with Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery.  The presidential memorandum recognizes the important work of our federal agencies to identify programs that help the vulnerable and underserved achieve improved outcomes and more efficiently reach their goals by incorporating civil legal aid partners."

ATJ looks forward to continuing its work in this area and engaging with our federal partners to help the most vulnerable and underserved among us.

Posted in:
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September is the final month of Fiscal Year 2015 and agency FOIA professionals are hard at work processing FOIA requests and administrative appeals in order to close out the year strongly. All the work done by agencies to administer the FOIA each year is captured in their Annual FOIA Reports and Chief FOIA Officer Reports. In addition, during the course of the year four key FOIA statistics are reported every three months in agency Quarterly FOIA Reports. These reports all serve an important role in documenting the efforts of  agencies to respond to the ever-increasing numbers of FOIA requests received each year. They also provide valuable information about the many ways agencies are working to find greater efficiencies, increase proactive disclosures and utilize technology to improve FOIA administration.

In order to satisfy their reporting obligations this year, agencies should mark the following deadlines in their calendars:

Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report

December 4, 2015 – Agencies are required to submit their Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Reports to OIP for review.

For guidance on the requirements for completing the Annual FOIA Report, please see the Department’s Annual FOIA Report Handbook.

Fiscal Year 2016 Quarterly FOIA Reports

January 29, 2016 – Quarter 1 data is required to be posted.
April 29, 2016 – Quarter 2 data is required to be posted.
July 29, 2016 – Quarter 3 data is required to be posted.
October 28, 2016 – Quarter 4 data is required to be posted.

For guidance on the requirements for completing the FY 2016 Quarterly Reports, please see OIP’s guidance on quarterly reporting.

2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

January 15, 2016 – The twenty-nine high-volume agencies noted in the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines are required to submit their 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review.

February 5, 2016 – All other agencies are required to submit their 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review

March 14, 2016 – Agencies are required to post their 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports online.

For guidance on the requirements for completing the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report, see OIP's 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines.

To help assist and prepare agencies for these reporting obligations, OIP will be hosting a refresher training on the Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report and 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report. The details for this training are:

Refresher Training for FY 2015 Annual FOIA Reports and 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports
Department of Justice Conference Center
1st and N Street NE, Washington, DC

October 13, 2015, 1:00 – 4:00pm

Training is open to agency Chief FOIA Officers, Principal FOIA Contacts, and any other agency personnel who prepare Annual FOIA Reports and/or Chief FOIA Officer Reports (including appropriate IT staff)

If you are interested in attending this refresher training seminar, please email your name to OIP’s Acting Training Coordinator at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Annual Report and Chief FOIA Officer Report Refresher Training.” Please note that registration is required to attend and that you will need a picture ID to enter the building. If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP’s Acting Training Coordinator at (202) 514-3642.

If you have any questions regarding any of the deadlines noted above, or the requirements for completing any of the reports, please contact OIP’s FOIA Compliance Team at (202) 514-3642.

You can also find all of these reporting deadlines on the Reports page of OIP’s website.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Today, I was honored to join Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery at the National Congress of American Indian’s Tribal Leader Briefing to announce the Department of Justice’s FY 2015 Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) grants. This year, the Department, through its three grantmaking components, is making 206 grants totaling more than $97 million to enhance and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts in tribal communities. In 2015, the Office on Violence Against Women made 52 awards in the amount of $30.8 million to enhances the ability of tribes to respond to domestic and sexual violence, enhance the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women, develop education and prevention strategies, and improve law enforcement and court systems to support tribal sovereignty.

A list of all 2015 CTAS awards is available at http://www.justice.gov/tribal/file/771691/download.

For more information on CTAS and other Department of Justice resources and information for tribal communities, visit the Justice Department’s Tribal Justice and Safety web site http://www.justice.gov/tribal/.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines directed agency Chief FOIA Officers to “review all aspects of their agencies’ FOIA administration” and to report annually to the Department of Justice on the efforts undertaken “to improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure at their agencies.” In accordance with the 2009 FOIA Guidelines, OIP provides specific guidance each year to agencies on the content and timing of these reports and today we have issued the guidelines for agency 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.

Since 2010, OIP’s guidelines for agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports have required agencies to examine the five key areas addressed in the 2009 FOIA Guidelines:

  1. Applying the Presumption of Openness,
  2. Ensuring that there are Effective Systems for Responding to Requests,
  3. Increasing Proactive Disclosures,
  4. Increasing the Utilization of Technology, and
  5. Improving Timeliness and Reducing any Backlogs.

Each year’s reporting guidelines build off the efforts and initiatives reported in the prior years. Our goal is to capture more advanced steps taken by agencies as their implementation of the FOIA Guidelines has matured. This year’s guidelines also continue to focus on certain areas where further improvements can be made.

The 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines maintain the streamlined reporting requirements introduced last year for agencies that receive a lower volume of FOIA requests, i.e. less than 1,000 incoming requests each year. For those agencies with more than 1,000 requests received annually, the guidelines remain quite comprehensive.

As in previous years, OIP has included new questions in the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, covering such topics as:

  • Plans for ensuring that a high percentage of agency FOIA professionals receive substantive FOIA training,
  • Steps to strengthen Requester Service Centers, FOIA Public Liaisons, and dispute resolution services,
  • Proper procedures for “still-interested” inquiries,
  • The role of FOIA professionals in posting records online, and
  • Training conducted for processing tools, such as new case management systems or eDiscovery tools.

OIP has once again identified the twenty-nine agencies that received more than 1,000 requests during the most recent fiscal year of available data and has listed them in this year’s guidelines as “high-volume” agencies. These agencies must submit their draft 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review by no later than January 15, 2016.

The remaining agencies must submit their draft reports to OIP for review by no later than February 5, 2016. To assist agencies in the completion of their reports, OIP has created separate templates for large- and small-agencies containing their specific questions from this year’s guidelines.

Additional details on the review and submission process are included in the Guidelines. OIP will once again host a refresher training seminar on the preparation of both the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports and the Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Reports. The details for this training will be announced here on FOIA Post.

You can view the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, as well as all other guidance issued by OIP, on the Guidance page of our site.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

As Fiscal Year 2015 is quickly drawing to an end, agencies are hard at work processing more and more requests to close out the year strongly.  OIP encourages agencies to focus these last weeks of the fiscal year on their FOIA administration to help reduce any backlogs.  One of the main tools agencies use for tracking the efficiency of their FOIA workflows and ensuring the accuracy of their Annual FOIA Report is their case management system.       

A key component of President Obama's FOIA Memorandum is the direction to "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government."  Over the past several years agencies have reported in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports widespread use of technology in receiving and tracking FOIA requests and preparing agency Annual FOIA Reports. 

Agencies currently use various case management systems for tracking and processing their FOIA requests, and each agency should ensure that they are using the system that best serves their particular FOIA needs.  As outlined in DOJ's Annual FOIA Report Handbook, agencies are ultimately responsible for the quality of their Annual FOIA Report data.  They should exercise due diligence in testing their systems to ensure accuracy for the benefit of both their year-end reports as well as workflow reports that they rely on during the year to manage their FOIA administration. 

At the Department of Justice, our components use a number of different methods and tools to track their FOIA requests tailored to their unique needs.  OIP has been working with EPA to develop enhancements to FOIAonline, the EPA’s multi-agency FOIA tracking system, that meet our specific needs, and we are pleased to announce that beginning in early 2016, OIP will be using FOIAonline as our case management system.  In addition to tracking the requests it processes and the Department’s administrative FOIA appeals, OIP will be using FOIAonline to prepare and validate the Department’s Annual FOIA Report. 

OIP's use of FOIAonline builds on the great work between OIP, EPA, and the partner agencies that has existed from the very beginning of FOIAonline.  OIP has worked closely with EPA and the FOIAonline partners from the start to ensure the system produces an accurate Annual FOIA Report, as well as to make sure that any enhancements function appropriately in compliance with the FOIA statute and DOJ guidance. 

OIP is excited to be working with EPA on the development of additional enhancements to FOIAonline and the future possibilities for how FOIAonline can assist agencies with their FOIA case management needs. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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

August 29 marked the 10-year anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, devastating the Gulf Coast region.  Just a few weeks later, Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Texas shoreline. These two horrific storms ravaged coastal areas of the Southeastern United States, leaving over 1,800 people dead and destroying the homes and communities of thousands more.

In the decade since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, our nation has learned many critical lessons about how to more effectively respond to emergencies and disasters, and in particular, how to ensure that the needs of the whole community—including individuals with access and functional needs; those from religious, racial and ethnically diverse backgrounds; people with limited English proficiency, nonprofit organizations, businesses, academia, media outlets and all levels of government—are considered and included in all stages of disaster and emergency management activities, including planning, response and recovery.  While disasters and emergencies can affect all members of a community, in the absence of appropriate planning, they may result in more severe hardships for vulnerable populations.

In recent years, the federal government has developed National Planning Frameworks that outline the way all levels of government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and the public at large can work together to build and sustain capabilities at each stage of emergency and disaster management, with an emphasis on engaging the whole community.  The National Response Framework and the National Disaster Recovery Framework incorporate civil rights nondiscrimination principles in their guidance and emphasize the importance of providing equal access to emergency related services.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is dedicated to working, in conjunction with our sister agencies, to ensure that everyone has access to critical resources and services provided in the wake of disasters and to enforce statutory provisions which prohibit discrimination against vulnerable communities, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act, among others.  For example, in response to recent public health emergencies such as the spread of the H1N1 Influenza and the Ebola virus, the division has issued guidance concerning nondiscrimination requirements.  Please take time to read our recent article A Decade after Hurricane Katrina: Title VI Protections and Responsibilities in Emergencies and Disasters, available in the summer issue of Title VI Civil Rights News @FCS, which examines the federal government’s efforts to address racial and ethnic disparities during disaster preparation, response and recovery.  We must all remember that civil rights laws must always be complied with, even during emergency response and recovery activities. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

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

 Catherine Hafsi      Catherine Hafsi Walker      Cherie Clark                                                 


Twenty-five years ago, our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  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 will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the stories of Catherine Hafsi and Cherie Clark and how the department’s work enforcing the ADA is improving access to sidewalks, parking spaces, curb ramps and city facilities throughout Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Catherine Hafsi uses a walker.  When Ms. Hafsi was invited to attend the Cedar Rapids’ 25th ADA anniversary event at the federal courthouse, she was excited and thrilled.  On her way to the event, she encountered problems with the entrance door to the parking pay system of a municipal lot.  Specifically, she had difficulty keeping the door open while maneuvering her walker through the door in order to pay for parking.  Ms. Hafsi’s problem is not uncommon in Cedar Rapids.  She noted that some parking pay systems stations have heavy entrance doors that make it almost impossible for people with disabilities to pay for parking at parking facilities.

Ms. Hafsi also encountered issues with sidewalks when she visited the Fair Housing Office at the Veteran’s Memorial Building.  In order to access the sidewalk in front of the Veteran’s Memorial Building, Ms. Hafsi had to walk in the street with her walker and risk her safety because there were no accessible curb ramps.

Cherie Clark, uses a wheelchair and walker, and has also encountered several accessibility issues with sidewalks and entrances to city facilities in Cedar Rapids.  When Ms. Clark visits the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which she normally does four to five times per month, the automatic doors to the library entrance do not work properly and the toilet room doors are very heavy and difficult to operate.  Both Ms. Hafsi and Ms. Clark experienced similar issues with inaccessible sidewalks, curb ramps, entrances to facilities, and inaccessible parking in Cedar Rapids.

Over the next years, experiences like Ms. Hafsi’s and Ms. Clark’s will become a thing of the past.  Cedar Rapids and the Justice Department have reached an agreement under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.  One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that Cedar Rapids install, repair or replace thousands of sidewalks and curb ramps throughout the city to bring them into compliance with current ADA standards.

Under this agreement, Cedar Rapids will ensure that its services, programs and activities are fully accessible to people with disabilities.  Cedar Rapids will also target its city parking lots and toilet rooms to make sure that they are accessible to persons with disabilities and enhance accessibility throughout the city’s park system.

Over the past 15 years, nearly 220 communities have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to ensure that their citizens with disabilities enjoy the same services, programs and activities that all others enjoy.  For more information about the ADA, today’s agreement, the Project Civic Access initiative, or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for state and local governments, individuals may access the ADA Web page at http://www.ada.gov/civicac.htm or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).


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