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Speech

Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer Delivers Remarks at the Meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Location

Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Liz. It’s great to be here.

On behalf of the Attorney General, I want to welcome you all to this meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

I want to thank Amy for helping to kick us off, and for her outstanding leadership of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) over the last three-plus years. Amy, you’ve been a wonderful ally and advisor in your own right. You’ve also been a good friend, and a true champion for our youth and for our communities. You are leaving OJP in excellent hands with Brent, but there’s no question that your absence will be deeply felt.

We are so very fortunate at the Department of Justice to have leaders like Liz Ryan and her amazing team in OJJDP to carry on the work of building safer communities and expanding opportunities for our youth. This work has never been more important, and the contributions of this council never so necessary.

We’re reminded of the urgency of this work in every news cycle, in every report about the challenges that our young people are facing, in the daily accounts of the difficult struggles our kids encounter. The overdose crisis, social isolation, anxiety about school shootings – these and so many other factors weigh heavily on the minds of our youth, in ways that we adults, raised in a different time, cannot fully imagine or appreciate.

Gun violence is high on the list of challenges. Just two days ago, the Surgeon General issued an advisory declaring firearm violence a public health crisis. The report points out that gun deaths overall have risen steadily over the last decade, and it underscores the deeply disturbing fact that firearm violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens, and has been for the last four years. And tragically, that violence disproportionately affects people of color. Black and Latino youth were up to seven times more likely in the past year to experience a firearm homicide than white youth. As the Surgeon General noted in another context, the challenges facing today’s youth are unprecedented, and their effects on youth mental health are devastating.

A vast body of research bears this out. Notably, these devastating effects aren’t even limited to mental health outcomes. Trauma and stress take an incredible toll on both mind and body, and the consequences can be profound, in some cases lasting a lifetime.

You all know better than anyone that without intervention, traumatic childhood experiences are a predictor of future victimization and justice involvement. They can also lead to a host of physical and psychological problems, including environmental stress so toxic that it can fundamentally alter the packaging of a child’s DNA.

Exposure to gun and community violence, apart from the immediate dangers it poses, can haunt and harm lives for years.

But we also know that if we are able to identify trauma early – and apply the right intervention – we can be very effective in preventing these harmful outcomes. We know that young people are uniquely shaped by trauma and victimization, but we also know that youth are resilient and highly responsive to treatment, especially if we’re able to reach them early. Our job is to help our colleagues in the field identify the most effective, evidence-informed solutions and bring those solutions to scale in our communities.

I’m immensely proud of the work that Liz and her team are doing to make this happen. OJJDP’s Continuums of Care initiative offers a blueprint for intervention and support that will help justice-involved youth overcome the adversity that so many have faced in their young lives. Their work to deliver developmentally appropriate services to youth in their homes and communities whenever possible, and to lower the barriers to opportunity, is strengthening safety and paving the way to success for our young people.

Amy has also outlined how we’re working to build trauma-informed strategies into programs across the public safety spectrum, to break cycles of harm among those who come into contact with the justice system. We know that the first vital step toward a healthy life involves healing. Only then can we hope to find sustainable answers to our community safety challenges.

I want to underscore how grateful the Justice Department’s leadership is that this distinguished body of experts is working together on behalf of our youth. You are the champions they need at the time when they need it the most.

We look forward to hearing the outcome of your deliberations and are eager to see the recommendations you will be making later this year.

Thank you for your time, and best wishes for a productive conversation today.


Updated June 27, 2024