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Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division Speaks at the “Youth Violence Prevention and Positive Youth Development” Conference


Hartford, CT
United States

Thank you for that kind introduction, David, and for welcoming me here so warmly.  I’m delighted to be with all of you in Hartford this morning.  It’s an honor for me to participate in this important conference on youth violence prevention, and positive youth development, and I commend David and the entire U.S. Attorney’s Office for hosting this event, along with the The Justice Education Center.

At the outset, I want to recognize David for his leadership as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut.  David and I have known each other for close to 20 years, and have a number of ties in common.  But it’s through his work as U.S. Attorney over the past year, and the partnerships that have developed between the Criminal Division and his office in that time, that I have come to know even better what a tremendous lawyer and leader David is. 

I also want to thank Mayor Segarra for his insightful remarks this morning.  I’m privileged to be here in your city today, and to be able to come together with you to highlight the critically important issue of youth violence prevention. 

And I want to recognize Governor Malloy for his leadership of the great State of Connecticut.  As you heard from David, I was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan early in my career, in the 1980s, so I was particularly interested to learn that, among Governor Malloy’s many impressive accomplishments and experiences, he spent four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn at approximately the same time.  The years I spent prosecuting criminals in New York were certainly formative for me, and I imagine they were for you as well. 

As the father of two teenage boys, I care deeply about the issue that has brought us all together today – youth violence prevention.  To a certain extent, we have reasons to be optimistic.  Violent crime has been decreasing across the country since the early 1990s, and in recent years this trend has continued.  According to statistics compiled by the FBI, violent crime decreased 5.3 percent nationwide in 2009, and an additional 5.5 percent in 2010.  In Hartford, reflective of the national trend, violent crime has also decreased significantly in the past two decades, from a high in 1990 of 2,939 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants, to 1,293 per 100,000 in 2010. 

In spite of this overall progress, you all know as well as I do that violent crime remains an enormous challenge in our cities – from Hartford, to Washington, D.C., where I come from, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I was last week – and many places in between.  We also know that children are more likely to suffer the consequences of violent crime than adults.  Children are more likely than adults to be exposed to violence and crime; and this exposure can lead them to seek refuge in drugs and crime, rather than to pursue more hopeful paths.  According to a recent national study sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, more than 60 percent of the children surveyed reported having been exposed to violence in the past year – either directly, as a victim; or indirectly, as a witness, for example, or as the family member, friend, or neighbor of a victim.    

That’s a staggering figure – and one that you, and I, and all of our communities, must work urgently to change. 

The Justice Department is committed to fighting violent crime, and to doing so strategically.  Attorney General Eric Holder recently challenged every United States Attorney in the country to develop a local anti-violence strategy that includes, first, vigorous criminal enforcement efforts; second, effective crime prevention programs; and third, strong prisoner reentry initiatives.  All three are essential.

In my position as the Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, my primary focus is criminal enforcement – the investigation and prosecution of individuals who commit violent, white collar, and other crimes.  I have the privilege of leading nearly 600 lawyers, whose collective mission is to enforce the nation’s federal criminal laws, and to help develop and implement our criminal law policy. 

Fighting violent crime is one of the Criminal Division’s top priorities.  Within the Division, we have separate Sections dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of organized crime and gangs; narcotics trafficking; child exploitation; and, in the very worst cases, capital crimes.  Because we prosecute cases all across the country, that are often of national significance, our prosecutors work very closely with the nation’s 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices.  Indeed, since David became the U.S. Attorney here, we have partnered with his office on several significant prosecutions.

Here in Hartford, for example, we recently finished prosecuting, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a series of horrific crimes, involving two defendants who pleaded guilty to recruiting two 14-year-old girls to work as prostitutes.  For his crimes, the leader of this conspiracy, Jarell Sanderson, was sentenced earlier this month to over 25 years in prison.  We also recently prosecuted with David’s office the leader of a drug trafficking group based in Bridgeport.  In August 2005, this defendant, Azibo Aquart, entered a rival’s apartment, bound her, her boyfriend, and her friend, with duct tape, and brutally murdered all three.  Earlier this month, a jury in New Haven voted unanimously to impose the federal death penalty upon Mr. Aquart.

Prosecuting the very worst criminals in our society is challenging, resource-intensive work; and it remains the central component of the Justice Department’s anti-violence strategy.  But it is not the only component.  In the Attorney General’s view – and I share his vision wholeheartedly – fighting violent crime requires more than just putting offenders in jail.  It also requires preventing crime before it occurs, and smoothing the transition of released prisoners back into society. 

Prevention and reentry programs that work in one district may not work in another, which is why we believe that effective anti-violence strategies need to be developed in concert with state, local, and tribal officials.  But a key aspect of any violence prevention program will necessarily involve preventing youth violence, including by providing young people at risk with viable alternatives to lives of crime; and the Justice Department is committed to supporting anti-youth violence programs across the country – through grants administered by the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Violence Against Women, and the Community Oriented Policing Services, and through community-based programs. 

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the District of New Mexico, where I participated, with U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales, in a “graduation” ceremony in Albuquerque for students at Camp Triumph, a prevention program designed to steer middle school children away from drugs and crime.  Camp Triumph is a program jointly sponsored by the Albuquerque Police Department, the New Mexico National Guard, the New Mexico Air National Guard, the Bernalillo County Sherriff’s Department, the Southwest Border High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque.  Having seen first hand how the program works, I know that programs like Camp Triumph are exactly the kinds of locally-developed, youth violence prevention programs we need – to encourage young people to develop their strengths, rather than to pursue what may often look like the easier path, toward drugs and crime.

If we can together work to prevent crime before it occurs, through programs like Camp Triumph and in other ways, we are of course achieving progress.  The more we can prevent violence against children, reduce their exposure to crime in general, and stop them from committing crimes themselves, the better chance we have of ensuring the safety of our cities and communities. 

In the Criminal Division, we are working to assist U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country to develop best practices for preventing violent crime in their districts.  Through our “JUSTICE Teams” initiative, we have assembled a team of experienced violent crime coordinators from four U.S. Attorney’s Offices – in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Memphis, and Cleveland – to help other districts strengthen their anti-violent crime strategies.  In particular, our team is providing insight and training on how to identify the “worst of the worst” criminals in a particular community, and target them for prosecution; and how to deter those individuals who are most at risk of committing violent crimes, including recently released offenders.   

As I mentioned earlier, preventing violent crime by and against our youth is not enough.  There are over two million people – 1 in 100 adults – presently incarcerated in the United States.  Approximately 95 percent of all prisoners are eventually released.  A majority of them are rearrested, and approximately half are reincarcerated.  With a recidivism rate this high, it is absolutely critical that, in addition to strong criminal enforcement and robust crime prevention programs, we also assist prisoners with their transitions back into society – through substance abuse treatment, employment and housing assistance, mentoring programs, and in other ways as well.  These efforts are necessary to give released prisoners an opportunity to turn their lives around and, more importantly, to steer them away from committing more crime.

Last year, the Justice Department awarded close to $100 million under the Second Chance Act to support reentry programs.  Our preliminary assessment is that these programs are succeeding.  And, as Attorney General Holder said last week to a gathering at the Department of Labor, it is critical that we work with Congress in the coming months to secure the Act’s timely reauthorization.

I grew up in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, in New York City, during the 1960s and 1970s.  During that time, I encountered certain gangs in my neighborhood.  But the gangs of those days bear small resemblance to the many violent gangs we face today.  I was able to attend my local public schools without fearing that I would be the victim of a violent crime on my way to school, or inside school walls.  Not every child in Queens, or Hartford, or Albuquerque, or Chicago can say that today.  Which makes the challenge we all have that much more urgent.  Violent crime remains a serious problem in so many cities; and young people, unfortunately, often bear the brunt of it.

You are here today because you know how important it is to continue finding innovative and effective ways to fight violent crime.  As someone who focuses on criminal prosecution, I am absolutely committed to doing everything I can to help make our communities safer.  I know you are as well. 

David, thank you for including me in this important event.  It’s my privilege to be able to join you, Governor Malloy, Mayor Segalla, Chief Roberts, and all of the dedicated individuals who are here today in shining a light on the issue of youth violence and positive youth development.  You all have a tremendous program ahead of you, and I wish you a very productive day.  Thank you.

Updated September 17, 2014