Thank you, Kathi – and thank you all for being here.
It’s a pleasure to be among so many good friends and distinguished colleagues this afternoon. And it’s a privilege to join you all in welcoming Bob Listenbee as Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Many of us have known Bob for years, as a highly-respected public defender and juvenile justice system reformer. Throughout his career, he has championed juvenile justice issues and fought to protect young people who are in need and at risk – most recently as Co-Chair of the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. He has also served as a member of OJJDP’s Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which advises the President, Congress, and OJJDP on juvenile justice policy; as a trial lawyer at the Defender Association of Philadelphia; and as Chief of the Association’s Juvenile Unit.
As OJJDP Administrator, I know Bob will continue to be a strong voice for all children and their families, particularly those impacted by violence. And I’m proud to officially welcome him to the Justice Department today.
At our last Coordinating Council meeting in December, this group heard from the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The Task Force presented a report including 56 recommendations to address and prevent childhood exposure to violence – as victims or as witnesses.
Just two days later, a horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children and 6 adults. And it served as a shocking reminder of exactly what we’re up against – and exactly how much is at stake in our ongoing fight to protect our most vulnerable citizens: our children.
Nearly every day, the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School is compounded by individual tragedies that take place on the streets of big cities and small towns across the country – and that too often pass unnoticed.
Just days after this group last came together, I traveled to Newtown and met with the first responders and crime scene search officers who arrived at the school just after the first calls came in.
In what were without question the worst moments of my professional life, I walked the halls where those terrible acts took place. I saw the dried blood. I saw the horrific crime scene photos. And when the brave men and women I met with asked me, with broken hearts and tear-streamed faces, to do whatever I could to prevent such a thing from happening again – I told them I would not rest until we had secured the common-sense changes that they and those 26 angels deserve.
When I left Newtown that day, I was more convinced than ever of the critical importance of the work that this Coordinating Council is doing – and the Administration’s comprehensive efforts to cut down on gun crimes and other forms of violence.
Today, I am firmly committed – as I know everyone here is committed – to keep the promises we’ve made to the American people, and especially to survivors and victims’ families in communities like Newtown: to do everything in our power to cut down on violence and prevent future tragedies; to implement the recommendations we heard from Bob and his colleagues in December; and to take action based on complementary reports, such as the June 2012 report of the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women.
At our last meeting, I told members of this Coordinating Council that I would help ensure that the Task Force’s recommendations would not be shelved or set aside. I promised that they would be carefully considered and, wherever possible, used as the basis for action – and a blueprint for strengthening our robust anti-youth violence work that’s already underway.
Two weeks after that meeting, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West and I sat down with Mary Lou Leary and her OJP staff to discuss the Defending Childhood Initiative – and to reinforce the need for us to move toward implementation of the Task Force recommendations.
I’m pleased to note that, since then, my colleagues across the Justice Department have taken this directive to heart. Over the past several months, OJJDP’s leadership and staff members have begun to engage with a range of federal partners about how we might be responsive to the Task Force recommendations.
At my request, Department leaders have developed near-and long-term strategies for how we can collaborate with our colleagues and counterparts in order to make a positive difference in four primary areas of activity: raising public awareness, strengthening professional education and training, building knowledge through ongoing research, and increasing DOJ and federal coordination and capacity.
Over the next year, I am charging my DOJ colleagues to plan for the implementation of these recommendations. I know some of you have already started to work with us in this planning process, to map existing federal activities, and to help ensure that we’re making the best possible use of precious taxpayer resources.
As we look toward the future of these efforts, I’m confident that we’ll be able to refine and build upon existing activities – while establishing new policies and programs when necessary.
After all, there’s no question that we have come a long way since 2010, when the Defending Childhood Initiative was born – and we can all be encouraged by the steps forward we’ve seen in recent years.
But there’s also no denying that a great deal remains to be done in our efforts to better understand the causes and impact of youth violence; to prevent and combat it; and to bring hope and healing to those who suffer exposure.
This is nothing less than a national crisis – with serious ramifications for the future of our country, and for the young men and women who will soon be called upon to build that future.
The cost of failure and inaction – both human and moral – is simply too high to contemplate. The responsibility for turning back the tide of violence rests with each of the leaders – in this room and far beyond it – who has made a commitment to fighting back. And that’s why, as long as we work together, support one another, and remain steadfast in our determination to make the difference our children need – I believe there’s no limit to what we’ll be able to achieve.
In just a moment, I’ll turn things over to another key leader of this work – Acting Associate Attorney General West – to move this important conversation forward.
Based on the results of our last meeting, I will be asking Tony to help lead the creation of an American Indian Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, in collaboration with our colleagues at the Department of the Interior. I’m grateful for his leadership on this and a wide range of other issues.
Please join me in welcoming Acting Associate Attorney General West.