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Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson for the Office of Justice Programs Speaks at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Annual Meeting


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you so much, Nancy Hornberger. It’s great to be here with all of you.

I want to thank the Coalition for inviting me here today. Your issues are ones I’ve cared about over many years, going back to my days at the American Bar Association, when I founded its Center on Juvenile Justice many decades back.

In fact, I’m proud to say that I hired Patti Puritz to lead the Center back in the 80s. Patti, as I’m sure all of you know, is now Executive Director of the National Juvenile Defender Center, and clearly a “leading light” in this field. Hiring her was my claim to fame, and I’ve learned so much from Patti over the years.

In the 90s, when I came to OJP under Janet Reno, I was privileged to work closely with her – and Shay Bilchik, OJJDP’s Administrator – to restore the Justice Department’s focus on juvenile justice, which had been neglected for a number of years before Ms. Reno took office.

OJJDP really flourished during that era under Shay and John Wilson, and I think the office did some terribly important work, like developing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders. So when I came back to OJP in 2009, a key goal for me was to help return OJJDP to those days when it was so central to the Department’s mission.

Part of that “restoration of OJJDP” has involved rebuilding a strong relationship with the field. One of the things I valued most during my earlier tenure at OJP was the mutual trust, respect, and ideas we shared with those of you on the front lines. I really wanted to get back to that.

And I think we have returned there. We’re back to talking to our partners and to listening to your ideas – and not just listening, but taking what you have to say and trying to use it to inform our programs and policies.

We’ve also worked to restore integrity to the grant process, which is critically important to Eric Holder, to me, and to Jeff and the rest of the leadership in OJJDP. We’ve taken many steps to instill transparency into the funding processes, and I think – I hope – we’ve re-established our reputation for fairness and accountability.

We’ve made real progress, I think, and I’m proud of the work that Jeff and Melodee Hanes and the wonderful staff of OJJDP are doing.

Of course, a dedicated federal staff is only one part of the equation. The challenges facing us in juvenile justice really require that we join together to work on the long term problems.

As the Attorney General said at a speech in March before the National Association of Counties, “I can’t pretend that achieving the results we hope to see – and that our young people deserve – will be quick or easy work.  It won’t be.  We will not solve all of these issues in the next six years.  But...the Justice Department – and, specifically, the Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention – is committed to keeping up our efforts to address these issues boldly, creatively, and collaboratively, to get us to the place where we must be.”

Picking up, then, on Eric Holder’s theme, it means that we need to continue to listen to one another and act on what we hear. For us at OJP, that means reaching out to you and relying on your expertise to guide us. For you, it means sharing your concerns and holding us to account, as you did when the President’s 2012 budget proposal was released. And let me take just a minute to address that.

As you well know, the President’s budget originally envisioned a “Race to the Top”-style approach for much of our juvenile justice funding. You expressed concerns about its veering away from the traditional formula-based nature of those programs – and we heard you. So we worked to strike a balance between the formula approach and the incentive approach – and now we have, I think, a much stronger proposed program for the FY ’12 budget. In other words, that dialogue was robust – and very fruitful.

And those discussions, I think, helped to galvanize our efforts to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Jeff will talk more about our reauthorization efforts, but I want you to know that we’ve been meeting with Hill staff, and our discussions have been very productive. This is a top priority for both Jeff and me – as I know it is for all of you.

And I know there are other challenges, too. As you are well aware, we’re awaiting a nominee from the White House to lead OJJDP. We understand how important this is to you – as it is to us in OJP. I don’t yet have news to report on this, but I’m confident that, when someone is named to that post, he or she will know the issues and have your interests at heart. And in the meantime, it’s great that Jeff is there with his vast knowledge of juvenile justice and the JJDP Act and his years-long dedication to kids. I think he deserves a round of applause, don’t you?

Though there’s still much for us to do at the federal level, I think we’re making real progress in many areas that concern children and youth. It’s worth pointing out that Jeff and his staff are at the center of several key Administration and Department initiatives:

For example, OJJDP is our lead in the Department’s Defending Childhood Initiative. This is one of the Attorney General’s signature initiatives, focusing on children exposed to violence – and it’s one to which Eric Holder is strongly and personally committed.

OJJDP is at the center of the White House’s National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which is bringing together stakeholders from across disciplines and levels of government to reduce youth and gang violence in cities struggling with this problem.

OJJDP is helping to lead the Administration’s work on juvenile and adult reentry. The Attorney General chairs a Federal Interagency Reentry Council that includes Cabinet-level officials and other agency heads – and OJP is leading a staff-level effort. OJJDP is at the forefront of this effort, primarily through its work supporting juvenile reentry programs under the Second Chance Act.

And OJJDP has been heavily involved in other important areas – for example, the National Mentoring Summit in January that the First Lady attended, and the reinvigorated Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice, which the Attorney General will be chairing this afternoon.

Jeff and his staff are also guiding us in our efforts to promote evidence-based practices in juvenile justice. Despite the wealth of knowledge we’ve acquired over the years, we still see too many instances of misguided programming and policy-making in our country – the continued attraction to Scared Straight programs being but one example.

This sort of “policy-making by instinct” was something I wanted to help change when I returned to OJP. And I had a kindred spirit in Jeff, who had already been working for years to push out the Model Programs Guide, which is just a fabulous resource for the field. There are more than 200 evidence-based programs in the Guide, covering the entire continuum of services, from prevention to reentry.

We’ve been weaving that resource into my Evidence Integration Initiative – or E2I, as we call it. This is one of my signature initiatives at OJP. Its goal really is to raise the status of research in criminal and juvenile justice by improving the quantity and quality of evidence available and by getting it out to the field in a useful format. I know this is a goal everyone in this room shares.

We’re making considerable progress. Yes, many challenges remain – from right-to-counsel issues to disproportionate minority contact to our continued struggles to recognize youth development in disposition decisions. But despite these challenges – and the challenges arising from a tough economy – I’m optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction.

We hope that you will continue to counsel us – and that you will continue to hold us accountable for our decisions. For our part, we will make sure your concerns are heard at the highest levels. That’s my pledge to you.

Thank you for your time, and thank you for all that you do.

Updated September 17, 2014