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Priorities of Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates

During her tenure, Ms. Yates has focused her efforts on strengthening public safety, reforming the criminal justice system, ensuring individual accountability for corporate wrongdoers, and enhancing our prison system for the 21st century. 



The Deputy Attorney General is responsible for overseeing the Department’s most sensitive criminal and national security matters.  A career prosecutor, Ms. Yates has used her position to address the challenges facing our law enforcement officers and federal prosecutors – and to call attention to the good work that these public servants perform on a daily basis. 

  • Targeting violent crime.  Americans have a right to feel safe in their homes and on their streets.  Watch Ms. Yates and David Harlow, Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service, announce a “fugitive sweep” of 7,000 dangerous criminals, and read her remarks regarding DOJ’s innovative “Violence Reduction Network” to tackle the root causes of crime in those cities experiencing a rise in violence. 
  • Educating the public about modern encryption threats.  One of the most significant threats facing modern law enforcement is the use of encryption technology to thwart criminal and national security investigations, a problem known as “Going Dark.”  Read her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and read her remarks on Going Dark to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies.
  • Honoring public service.  Our system of justice could not function without the good and honorable work of the law enforcement community.  Read Ms. Yates’s keynote remarks, delivered on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol, for the 2016 Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, and read her address to the 10th Annual Summit of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.



The criminal justice system depends on the confidence of the people it serves.  The Department is playing a crucial role in ensuring that confidence – by restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long prison sentences, by helping law enforcement engage with underserved communities, and by ensuring the reliability of evidence used in the courtroom.

  • Advocating for smart sentencing policies.  In recent years, the Department has supported reforms that allow prosecutors to focus their energy toward the most significant public safety threats and away from lower-level, non-violent drug offenders.  These changes are designed to restore proportionality to federal drug sentences and ensure that our system of justice is worthy of the public’s trust.   Read Ms. Yates’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, watch her speech[external link] to the American College of Trial Lawyers, and see the statistics on the early successes of the Department’s “Smart of Crime” initiative.
  • Correcting unnecessarily long sentences.  The Deputy Attorney General oversees the Office of the Pardon Attorney and is responsible for making recommendations to the President regarding clemency petitions.  Ms. Yates took on this role approximately eight months after the launch of the Department’s “Clemency Initiative,” which was designed to provide relief to lower-level, non-violent offenders serving unnecessarily long sentences.  Over the past eighteen months, the Department has created a more efficient process for reviewing petitions, which made it possible for President Obama to issue more grants of commutation in 2016 than were granted in any other year in American history. 
  • Improving engagement with underserved communities.  Earlier this year, the Department launched “implicit bias” training for all of its 23,000 law enforcement agents and 6,500 prosecutors.  In addition, the Department is spearheading efforts to ensure that mental health issues are addressed at all phases of the criminal justice process, from the time of a suspect’s arrest to his or her release from prison.  Read about the June 2016 rollout of the implicit bias training program, and read Ms. Yates’s keynote remarks from the “Stepping Up Summit,” hosted by the Center on State Governments and the American Psychiatric Foundation. Ms. Yates has also discussed the importance of providing legal assistance to all Americans, regardless of race, class, or status, and in a speech earlier this year, she called for jurisdictions to provide court-appointed counsel to indigent defendants at bail hearings.
  • Ensuring reliable evidence in the courtroom.  The Deputy Attorney General serves as the Co-Chair of the National Commission on Forensic Science, a groundbreaking partnership between the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to strengthen the field of forensic science.  Read her remarks to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, where the Department launched new initiatives to ensure Department forensic experts only use the most reliable evidence when testifying in court. 



One of the most effective ways to combat corporate misconduct is by seeking accountability from the individuals who perpetrated the wrongdoing. Such accountability is important for several reasons: it deters future illegal activity, it incentivizes changes in corporate behavior, it ensures that the proper parties are held responsible for their actions, and it promotes the public's confidence in our justice system.  On September 9, 2015, the Deputy Attorney General issued a memorandum entitled, “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing” – the so-called “Yates Memo” – to guide Department attorneys when handling corporate matters.  For more, visit

  • Issuing the Individual Accountability memo.  The memo outlined six significant shifts in Department policy:  (1) to be eligible for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide the Department all relevant facts about individuals involved in corporate misconduct; (2) both criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation; (3) criminal and civil attorneys handling corporate investigations should be in routine communication with one another; (4) absent extraordinary circumstances, no corporate resolution should provide protection from criminal or civil liability for any individuals; (5) corporate cases should not be resolved without a clear plan to resolve related individual cases; and (6) civil attorneys should evaluate whether to bring suit against an individual based on considerations beyond that individual’s ability to pay.  Read the original memo and watch Ms. Yates’s remarks[external link] announcing the new policy at New York University School of Law. 
  • Providing additional guidance.  Since issuing the memo, the Department has provided additional guidance on its revised policies.  Read the November 2015 speech to the American Banking Association and American Bar Association, which announced revisions to the United States Attorney’s Manual codifying the principles of the Individual Accountability memo, as well as the May 2016 speech to White Collar Crime Institute of the New York City Bar Association.  In addition, in a November 2016 speech at the Annual International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Ms. Yates announced that the Department was publishing FAQs about the initiative. 



Recognizing that reducing recidivism is one of the most powerful ways to prevent crime, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General has worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to better prepare inmates for their return to society.  A number of significant initiatives are currently underway, with a focus on rehabilitative services, including educational programs and job training.  Read Ms. Yates's remarks, delivered at Columbia Law School, that link prison reform to the broader efforts on criminal justice reform, and her op-ed in the Huffington Post[external link] that addressed similar themes.  For more, visit  

  • Reducing BOP’s reliance on private prisons.  In August 2016, the Department announced that BOP would be reducing – and ultimately ending – its use of privately operated prisons.  Read the memo to BOP announcing the decision.   
  • Improving job training for inmates.  Historically, BOP’s most effective job training program has been Federal Prison Industries (FPI), which was established by President Roosevelt in 1934 but has suffered financial setbacks in recent years.  With the Department's support, BOP hired turnaround specialist Gary Simpson with the goal of restoring FPI’s viability and increasing opportunities for inmates. 
  • Reinforcing bonds between inmates and their families.  BOP recently announced a number of new initiatives to help inmates maintain strong ties to family members while incarcerated, including expanded video-conferencing visitation, pilot programs for children of incarcerated parents, and training for BOP staff on how to make visitation spaces more child-friendly.  Read an overview of the policies.   
  • Building a school district within the federal prison system.  Research shows that inmates who participate in correctional education programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not, and that every dollar spent on prison education saves four to five dollars on the cost of re-incarceration.  With the Department’s support, BOP is building a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system, which will offer programs for literacy, high school diplomas and post-secondary education, along with expanded opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities. 
  • Reforming federal halfway houses.  BOP is overhauling Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs), popularly known as “halfway houses,” which provide housing for approximately 80 percent of inmates during the final months of their federal sentences.  Since the early 1980s, the ownership and operation of RRCs have been fully privatized, with BOP relying on a mix of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations.  In November 2016, Ms. Yates issued a memorandum directing BOP to leverage its purchasing power and overhaul this private market.  Among other things, the memorandum directed BOP to establish clear, uniform and improved standards for all RRC providers; expand the collection and publication of RRC performance data; and explore alternative models that would create a more effective and efficient market for federal reentry services.


Updated January 31, 2017