Justice News

Associate Attorney General Tony West Delivers Remarks at the Meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
United States
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Friday, July 26, 2013

Thank you for your leadership, Bob.  

The Attorney General regrets that he is not able to join us for today’s meeting; he very much wanted to be here as he has in been in the past, and asked me to convey his deep appreciation for all the critical work that the Council does for children and families.  As you all know, as both the Attorney General –as someone who has been a prosecutor, a judge, and most importantly, a father – the well-being of our nation’s youth has been and remains one of his top priorities.  

As part of his Defending Childhood Initiative, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence recommended the creation of a task force specifically devoted to American Indian and Alaska Native children in order to address the complex and unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native communities.  I am pleased to report that the creation of the Task Force on American Indian/Alaska Native Children’s Exposure to Violence is fast becoming a reality. 

Building on the work of the original and successful Defending Childhood Task Force and efforts across the Department of Justice in Indian country, the American Indian and Alaska Native Task Force will consist of two groups – an Advisory Committee and a Federal Working Group.

 The Advisory Committee will consist of non-federal experts that will convene to examine the pervasive problems associated with American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence. This committee will act in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and OJJDP will soon engage in a member selection process.  In addition, OJJDP has already issued a solicitation seeking technical assistance and other support for the Advisory Committee of the Task Force.

 The applications for this solicitation are due to OJJDP by this Monday, July 29, 2013. 

 The Federal Working Group consists of federal officials with experience in Indian country and children exposed to violence, including U.S. Attorneys with Indian country in their districts, our National Indian Country Training Coordinator Leslie Hagen, and representatives from OJP, the Office of Tribal Justice – including its director Tracy Toulou, and the Department of Interior.

 Importantly, the Federal Working Group, which has already convened on multiple occasions, will simultaneously implement policy and programmatic changes in the near-term for the benefit of American Indian and Alaska Native children exposed to violence. 

 The Working Group has already identified gaps and needs where we can get to work immediately – such as the provision of adequate educational services in BIA juvenile detention facilities –  and once the Advisory Committee convenes, it will provide additional recommendations on a rolling basis so that the Federal Working Group begin addressing identified issues immediately.  This will be a very active Task Force that will move with the sense of urgency this vexing problem demands.

 And both the Advisory Committee and the Federal Working Group will review the recommendations from the Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence to determine how they may be applied in Indian Country and where there may be areas for further exploration as it relates to American Indian and Alaska Native children’s exposure to violence.

 We anticipate that the Advisory Committee will convene hearings and listening sessions throughout the United States and prioritize consultation with American Indian and Alaska Native youth.  During these events, the Advisory Committee will explore ways to improve the identification, screening, assessment, and treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children traumatized by violence. It will also identify ways American Indian and Alaska Native communities can overcome the impact of violence.  In addition, the Advisory Committee will examine the needs of children living in urban or rural settings outside of reservations and villages and pay special attention to issues of trauma that children may experience who have been incarcerated in state, tribal, and federal judicial systems.

 Together, the Advisory Committee and the Federal Working Group will form a single Task Force committed to addressing and improving the lives of American Indian and Alaska Native children exposed to violence.  I am hopeful that we will engage in fruitful discussions with Tribal leaders and their communities on how best to combat the violence that is so harmful to American Indian and Alaska Native children and their families.  
I look forward to hearing from our trusted Council partners about the implementation of the Advisory Committee’s recommendations and will continue to update you on the Task Force’s progress at future meetings. 

Now to the primary focus of this Council meeting.  We have with us three distinguished panelists who will provide their insights on the recently published National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report “Reforming Juvenile Justice:  A Developmental Approach.”  Thank you for joining us today. 

You will hear remarks from OJJDP Administrator Bob Listenbee more specific to this panel, but before I turn the meeting back to Bob, I wanted to highlight that the findings and recommendations of this NAS report are closely aligned with this Council’s ongoing work related to the Defending Childhood Initiative, as well as major Department of Justice priorities, such as addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system and enhancing youth access to qualified legal counsel. 

I note that the NAS report makes major findings and recommendations on the critical importance of fairness in the juvenile justice system and the need for juvenile courts to ensure that youth “are represented by properly trained counsel and have an opportunity to participate in proceedings.”  Attorney General Eric Holder continues to work to ensure that the promise of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Gideon and In Re Gault, becomes a reality for youth involved in the nation’s juvenile and criminal justice systems.  I look forward to learning more today about how the findings of this critical report can inform the initiatives of the Department of Justice and our federal partners.