Federal law — including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Safe Streets Act of 1968 — prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating against any person on the basis of race, color or national origin. Each year, the Department of Justice provides billions of dollars in grant money and other financial assistance to state and local agencies involved in the justice system, including police departments and sheriffs' offices, correctional and juvenile justice institutions, state and local courts and organizations that provide support to victims of crime. Given the department’s mission to enforce the law, enhance public safety and ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all, the department must use all of its tools to ensure that its funding recipients do not engage in discrimination.
That effort includes robust implementation and enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating in the provision of services against any person on the basis of race, color or national origin. Similarly, the nondiscrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (Safe Streets Act) are modeled on Title VI and prohibit discrimination in service provision as well as in employment, on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and sex, in connection with any program or activity finances with specific criminal justice-related funds. Together, these statutes are vital tools in achieving the government’s obligation to ensure that public funds are not being used to finance illegal discrimination.
On Sept. 15, 2021, I directed the Civil Rights Division, working in partnership with the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Office on Violence Against Women, to review the implementation and administrative enforcement of Title VI and the nondiscrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act in connection with federal financial assistance provided by the Department of Justice. Today, following the review, the department is implementing a number of changes to strengthen the our enforcement of the critical nondiscrimination obligations that apply to recipients of federal financial assistance. Specifically, we will:
- Assign senior attorneys from both the Civil Rights Division and the Office of Justice Programs’ Office for Civil Rights to serve jointly as Title VI and Safe Streets Act Administrative Enforcement Coordinators, to streamline and strengthen the department’s enforcement efforts;
- Establish a Compliance Working Group to centralize and coordinate the department’s implementation of Title VI and the Safe Streets Act, and task that Working Group with (a) identifying best practices in data collection, (b) developing an early-warning system pilot using pre-award screening questions to promote compliance and identify grant applicants that warrant additional follow-up or are in need of assistance, (c) issuing public guidance documents, (d) reviewing and revising internal standards and procedures, and (e) conducting public outreach with stakeholders;
- Revise department protocols to provide that the Civil Rights Division and the Office of Justice Programs will share joint responsibility for conducting compliance reviews of recipients of department funds;
- Establish a centralized, electronic platform for filing Title VI and Safe Streets Act complaints; and
- Strengthen interagency coordination by, among other things, increasing data sharing among agencies and reducing reporting burdens on grantees.
The effective implementation and enforcement of Title VI and the Safe Streets Act are especially important for the Department of Justice. The department’s role in reviewing recipients’ compliance with their nondiscrimination mandates is critical to promoting trust and legitimacy between the department, our funding recipients and the communities that we collectively serve.
Effective implementation of Title VI and the Safe Streets Act can also serve as an important early warning system for federally funded recipients. Law enforcement stakeholders and other recipients of department funding have often expressed the desire to proactively address potentially unlawful practices, including before the department takes enforcement actions against them. The administrative processes under both Title VI and the Safe Streets Act – which require the department seek voluntary compliance to remedy potential violation of these statutes – provide that opportunity. Through pre- and post-award compliance reviews, the department can identify potentially discriminatory policies and practices at an earlier stage and engage recipients to achieve voluntary compliance and cure any discriminatory impacts of such practices before federal court intervention or other enforcement mechanisms are required.
As President Kennedy explained in his message to Congress proposing the enactment of Title VI: “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, or results in racial discrimination.” The improvements identified in the course of this review will move the department closer to ensuring that the federal government achieves this goal of simple justice by effectively and efficiently implementing and enforcing Title VI and the nondiscrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act. To learn more about the changes the department is implementing click here.