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Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary Speaks at the Defending Childhood Task Force Meeting


Detroit, MI
United States


Thank you, Mel. I’m very pleased to be here in Detroit for this final hearing of the Defending Childhood Task Force. I’d like to thank U.S. Attorney McQuade and Chief Godbee for serving as our hosts – and for their terrific leadership on behalf of our children and youth.

I’m delighted to join the Acting Associate Attorney General, Tony West, to underscore the Department’s commitment to this initiative. I’ll have the pleasure of introducing him in a few moments. I also want to recognize my colleague, Portia Roberson, a graduate of Wayne State University Law School and a former prosecutor here in Wayne County. Portia heads the Department’s Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison and is working here in Detroit on the Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative and the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.

I want to thank the two Task Force co-chairs, Joe Torre and Bob Listenbee, and all the task force members who’ve been working so hard on this effort. I think I can speak for us when I say how much we appreciate your time and dedication. It’s just tremendous.

It’s so gratifying for me to see the level of support and commitment Defending Childhood has received. Although crime rates are down nationally, many communities – and specifically, particular neighborhoods within those communities – are actually seeing an increase in violence. And sadly, much of it is being committed by – and against – our youth. In some cases, very young children have become victims of gun and gang violence. As the Attorney General has said many times, this is simply unacceptable.

By now, we shouldn’t be surprised that children who are exposed to violence – either as witnesses or as victims – are more likely to go on to become perpetrators. A growing body of research has confirmed this link. We also know they’re more likely to have other problems – truancy, poor school performance, long-term emotional and psychological issues. A kid’s first encounter with violence can be the beginning of a lifetime of trouble.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that crime and violence are not inevitable. Research and experience show that when problems are identified early and addressed holistically, violence decreases and desirable outcomes for children and youth improve. But this can only happen when we stop looking at violence solely as a law enforcement or criminal justice matter. We want to approach it as the community and public health concern it really is.

In the Office of Justice Programs, we’re working to address children’s exposure to violence comprehensively. We’re beginning by grounding our approach in the evidence. We’re supporting critical research and important data-gathering tools like the National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence.

We’re also supporting demonstration programs to refine our approaches to this difficult issue. Our eight project sites are exploring innovative strategies for mitigating the effects of violence on children.

Finally, we’re working to prevent at-risk youth from becoming perpetrators. Closely aligned with Defending Childhood is the work we’re doing under the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. This is a White House-led initiative to address youth and gang violence through comprehensive, balanced, data-driven strategies. Detroit is one of the Forum sites, and it’s exciting to see the strong commitment and leadership that Chief Godbee, U.S. Attorney McQuade, and their partners have demonstrated. We’re also very pleased to be part of the Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative here in Detroit and other cities. This initiative is about bottom-up economic transformation, which goes hand-in-hand with public safety.

I’m proud that the Office of Justice Programs is playing a central role in these efforts – through funding, yes, but also through training, research, and information – and perhaps most importantly, by helping to bring stakeholders together. Because our real strength lies in partnership – across levels of government, across disciplines, and extending into the private sector with groups like our friends at Casey Family Programs. Working together, there’s no problem we can’t solve. Working together, we can make a difference for our children.

It’s my privilege now to introduce our next speaker.

Tony West was appointed Acting Associate Attorney General on March 9th. And though he’s fairly new to his position, he’s a veteran of the Department of Justice. From 2009 until March of this year, he was the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, and he served in the Clinton Administration as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and as Special Assistant to the Deputy Attorney General.

His commitment matches his experience. He had only been in office three days when he paid a visit to my agency and emphasized his support for the work we do, particularly our efforts to prevent and reduce youth violence. He’s been a terrific partner, and you can bet he’ll continue to be a strong advocate for our work to protect children.

Please join me in welcoming Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West.

Updated December 16, 2016