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Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli Speaks at Justice Department Anti-Violence Event in Roanoke


Roanoke, VA
United States

Good morning. I would like to thank U.S. Attorney Heaphy and all of you for both having me here today and for joining us in this important discussion about how to make the Roanoke community safer and stronger. 

As Tim said, I am the Associate Attorney General, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department. I am also happy to say that I’m a life-long Virginian. And so, this forum has special meaning to me. I take pride in the Commonwealth and making sure that my kids and yours grow up in an environment that is free of violence.

Everyone knows that the Department of Justice and our U.S. Attorneys enforce federal law and keep our communities safe by pursuing and prosecuting the worst offenders, especially in areas like gang, drug, and gun violence. But if we really want to reduce crime and improve our schools, neighborhoods, communities, cities, and towns, we have to do more than just respond to crime after it has been committed.

At the Department of Justice, we are investing in more effective enforcement strategies, but we are also investing in communities across the country in proven strategies for preventing crime, in particular for reaching vulnerable young people before they commit crimes or when they begin going down the wrong path, and we are also investing in providing a transition for individuals coming out of prison, what we call reentry, because if we can reduce the recidivism rate, we can also reduce crime.

We make these investments because we know and the evidence shows us that a concerted focus on helping our young people avoid lives of violence and crime – and providing support to those who’ve served their time and are struggling to rejoin and contribute to their communities – is a proven public safety approach. 

It also makes economic sense. Only by pairing strong enforcement with prevention strategies and a real focus on reentry can we be both tough and smart on crime.

That’s why Attorney General Holder has challenged the 94 U.S. Attorneys across the country to develop an anti-violence strategy to address and curb violent crime locally, through robust engagement with our community partners—like all of you in this room—with a holistic approach involving effective crime prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry strategies.

At the heart of the effort are two ideas. First, U.S. Attorneys need to be more than prosecutors – they need to be community leaders. Second, engagement with the whole community – everyone from local law enforcement and prosecutors to service providers to advocates to educators to health care professional to business leaders – is critical. We only succeed if we are all working together.

That is why the forum today and the work that Tim Heaphy and the U.S. Attorneys’ Office has been doing is so critical. Tim exemplifies our approach to public safety and he has been a leader not just in the Western District of Virginia, but nationwide in developing and helping the Department make communities safer.

You read about his and his office’s efforts at cracking down on violent criminals, but what you probably hear less about is the work that we have been discussing today – working with the whole community on preventing crime before it occurs. Tim has been tireless in this effort and, through his community outreach coordinator Gwen Mason, he works every day to bring all the resources of communities in Southern and Western Virginia together to improve public safety. Those outreach and coordination efforts will pay long-term dividends for the people of this district.

Tim will talk more about what is happening on the ground here in Roanoke, but let me talk a little about the Department’s work across the country.

As the U.S. Associate Attorney General, one of my many hats is to oversee our grant programs: those administered by the Office on Violence Against Women, Community Oriented Policing (COPS), and our Office of Justice Programs. Each year, those programs provide several billion dollars to support community efforts to reduce violence and assist local police, prosecutors, and communities to address the problems that they face.

Many of these investments focus on enforcement – putting local police on the streets and giving them the tools that they need to best respond to crime in the community and to identify, apprehend, and remove violent criminals from our streets.

But prevention is also a cornerstone of these efforts. In this Fiscal Year, more than $900 million was allocated to support violence prevention programs, a notable increase to the amount of money given to community-based education and prevention efforts to combat violence before it occurs. We are also investing in research to help us identify the most effective ways to reduce crimes.

And what we have learned is eye opening. As an example, through the results of a 2005 national survey on children exposed to violence, we’ve learned, sadly, that children are more likely to be exposed to violence and crime than adults. The study showed that juveniles and young adults ages 12 to 19 were more than twice as likely to be the victims of violent crimes as the population as a whole. And that exposure to violence significantly increases the likelihood that that child will show up at some point in the criminal justice system or face a host of other problems.

We also learned that we have opportunities to end that cycle of violence. Research tells us that for every child that comes in contact with the criminal justice system, there were 20, 30, 40, 100 moments in time where early intervention could have made a difference; had one of those missed opportunities been taken, one often would have found a child affected by violence at a young age who ultimately found their way to engaging in criminal behavior themselves, taking drugs, having trouble in school, etc. 

This is why the prevention prong of this initiative is so important.

Prevention and enforcement are two-thirds of the puzzle. Seamless prisoner reentry, that reduces the probability of recidivism, is also key. When 1 in 100 American adults is incarcerated and a very high percentage of those who transition out of our jails and prisons are eventually rearrested, we know that even making a small reduction in the recidivism rate will have a meaningful impact on crime. That is why the Department has requested funding to implement the Second Chance Act, and this year is investing over $100 million in support for programs which offer employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, and family programming.  

Tim will talk in more detail about how these approaches are working and working effectively in Roanoke, and how he and his office are focused on public safety in all its forms. It’s an honor to be here with Tim to highlight his and the Department’s efforts. Thank you.

Updated September 17, 2014