Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason Delivers Testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Accountability and Oversight of Juvenile Justice Grants
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Chairman Grassley, Senator Leahy, and distinguished members of the committee. I am pleased to be here and grateful for the opportunity to discuss the efforts of the Department of Justice to improve our implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act so that we achieve the goals underlying the JJDPA – to help our nation’s youth become productive citizens and the visionary leaders that they are capable of becoming.
As Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, which includes the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, investing in our youth so that we unlock their tremendous potential is one of the primary reasons that I wanted to lead the Office of Justice Programs.
Ensuring that we have an effective and fair juvenile justice system is one of my top priorities. I believe that the road to safe and healthy communities begins with the assurance of opportunity for our young people, especially those who come into contact with the justice system.
Providing that opportunity – to take responsibility, to change behavior and ultimately, to become productive and successful members of their communities – lies at the heart of our mission at the Office of Justice Programs. And indeed, it is a fundamental moral obligation that we all share.
This administration and this Department of Justice have devoted substantial attention and resources to meeting the needs of challenged and justice-involved youth. Efforts like the Supportive School Discipline Initiative and our work with the Department of Education to provide educational services to youth in correctional facilities are designed to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system and ensure that those who come into our care are given the support, education, and guidance they need to get on the right path.
The provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act – and particularly, the four core protections set forth by the law – provide a framework for advancing this critical work. For more than forty years, the Department of Justice has used its grant-making authority under the JJDPA to make a positive difference in the lives of the young people who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
As you know, the Act sets nationwide standards for state-based juvenile justice systems and authorizes our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to award funds to assist states in improving their juvenile justice systems. While I can assure you that the leadership and staff of OJJDP are committed to fulfilling the mandates of the law, I am also aware of some serious problems in the way the office has monitored compliance with the Act, problems that we have already begun to address.
They arise from three overarching problems: regulations that are outdated and inconsistent with the law; vague standards that lead to subjectivity in compliance findings; and delays in making compliance determinations.
We are already developing new policies to improve compliance with the statute and to avoid these errors in the future. Last month, we created a new Core Protections Division in OJJDP, which on an interim basis will be led by an experienced auditor. The division will develop guidelines that streamline the process for submitting compliance data and it will create an online tool that will allow states to submit data and enable us to analyze that data in a timely fashion.
We are also tightening the timeline for making compliance determinations to ensure that states are held accountable for compliance failures. We are developing objective standards to guide our review and analysis. And we will make routine use of field audits to monitor state compliance activity and identify areas where technical assistance is needed.
Finally, we are reviewing all available options to determine whether OJJDP can recover any of the funds that were improperly awarded to states because of failures in the compliance monitoring process. In fact, in response to the Inspector General’s recent report outlining systemic failures in Wisconsin, we have frozen all of that state’s unspent formula grant funds and notified officials of our plan to conduct an audit within the next 60 days.
We will be both thorough and expeditious in taking these steps. Our goal – and my pledge to you – is to ensure that our compliance monitoring efforts are consistent with the law so that we fulfill our job of protecting our youth and putting them on a path for success.
I am grateful to you, Senator Grassley, and to the full Committee for calling these issues to our attention. And I applaud those who brought these serious matters to light. I encourage anyone who has knowledge of error, waste, and malfeasance in the administration of OJP programs to come forward immediately. They will continue to have my full support.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I will be happy to answer any questions you have.