Justice News

Remarks by Associate Attorney General Tony West at the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council
Washington, DC
United States
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Monday, July 28, 2014

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Kathi. As always, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in this meeting with you, our federal and practitioner members, as we explore ways we can better address the critical needs of our nation ’ s youth and their families.

Just a few minutes ago, I had the chance to spend some time with Starcia Ague and Osbert Duoa.  You'll hear from them directly in a moment, and I think you'll find their life journeys as compelling as did I when I first read about them.  But meeting with them helped to remind me of the essence of why we've gathered here this morning.

Of course, we're here as part of the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, and in particular in response to Attorney General Holder 's call to this Council four years ago that we make juvenile reentry a priority.

We're here because all of you heeded that call and have been actively engaged in the type of effective interagency collaboration that is producing real results and making a positive difference in the lives of so many youth.  Because while fewer youth are coming into contact with the justice system -- a development made possible thanks in no small measure to the efforts of folks around this table, as well as supportive private foundations such as MacArthur and Annie E. Casey -- we know that notwithstanding that, the recidivism rates for those youth who do come under systems supervision are often quite high.

We're here because, even though the last two decades have produced remarkable changes in state and local juvenile justice systems -- with juvenile arrest rates, including those for violent crimes, falling by over 50 percent from 1997 to 2011 (their lowest level in over 30 years) and youth confinement rates declining by half during that same period --- even with our success, we're here because 60,000 young people are still confined in juvenile detention and correction facilities on any given day and when they are released they will need support to successfully make that transition to productive adulthood and stable lives.

We're here because of young adults like Osbert and Starcia.  They remind us that at the end of all of the policy discussions and interagency collaborations, there are actual young lives that depend on folks around this table getting it right.  They remind us that each of these young lives has something of value to offer -- something unique to express to the world -- and through the work we do in these and other sessions -- by working to expand the support that will reduce recidivism and enhance post-juvenile systems education, job-training, parenting skills, counseling and health care -- we can maximize the opportunities for young people to express and be who they truly are; to find that inner strength, so clearly evidenced by Starcia, Osbert and so many others, to rise above circumstance and, as the English poet wrote, "open[] out a way/Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape."

So that's what brings us -- and keeps us -- around this table.  And today, we'll talk about effective strategies that should be applied as soon as youth come into contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems and approaches that involve meaningful engagement with families and caregivers, as well as multiple service systems.

We will hear from our partners around the table, including the Council of State Governments Justice Center, regarding their activities that can help state and local juvenile justice systems to positively impact the well-being of transitioning youth.  And the department ’ s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) will discuss its strategic plan to position state and local governments in their efforts to support youth transition to a healthy, crime-free, and productive adulthood.

And it's important to note that our conversations today take place against a backdrop of sustained commitment to these efforts by this Administration.  As many of you know, just last week, the White House announced the Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps program that is jointly funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and OJJDP.  It's an effort that supports the My Brother ’ s Keeper Initiative and will enroll disconnected youth in national service programs such as AmeriCorps over the next three years, backed by funding of up to $10 million.  We are pleased that Melissa Bradley and Kim Mansaray from CNCS are here with us today and we thank the Corporation for its commitment to this innovative initiative.

I started my remarks by mentioning Osbert and Starcia.  And as remarkable as those two individuals are, we know that nobody makes it in this world alone.  So I also want to acknowledge Osbert ’ s mother, Saygba Carl, and Osbert's mentor , Chef Jennifer Stott, who are both here with us today.

Thank you all for joining us.  It's now my pleasure to turn the floor over to Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason.