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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Introduction of the Presentation of the Final Report of the Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Tony, for those kind words - and thank you all for being here today.

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to this morning’s important meeting, and a privilege to join so many friends, colleagues, and indispensible partners in exploring innovative strategies for addressing the causes, and remedying the consequences, of youth violence and victimization.

As Tony mentioned, this work has been a personal and professional priority of mine for many years - not only as a former prosecutor, judge, United States Attorney, and Deputy Attorney General - but as the father of three teenagers. 

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that violence can have in the lives of children and teens who experience it, either as victims or as witnesses.  I know, as you do, that exposure to violence can occur virtually anywhere - in homes, in schools, in communities, and - increasingly - on the internet.  I understand that it constitutes a public health crisis - imposing a cost burden on our health care system that amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars each year.  But it’s also a significant criminal justice problem - with growing financial and human costs.  In fact, one study suggested that the cost of failing to intervene in the life of a young person who is at high risk of becoming delinquent can amount to more than $3 million over the course of that individual’s life - if he or she is allowed to proceed down a criminal path.  The cost of effective prevention and intervention measures, on the other hand, is typically only a few hundred or few thousand dollars per person.

This is one of many reasons why I share your commitment to better understanding and addressing the long-term consequences of this phenomenon - which, research tells us, can range from academic failure, to suicide, to drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, and crime.  It’s the commitment that first led me, as Deputy Attorney General, to help launch the initiatives that Tony mentioned - in order to bring Justice Department components together with a range of diverse partners to make a difference in the lives of young people across the country.

And it’s the same commitment that continues to drive our work today: from the dedicated professionals who are working tirelessly to ensure the success of our landmark Defending Childhood Initiative and National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention- to the agencies represented on this Council, and each and every member of this Task Force.

Now, there’s no question that we can be proud of the anti-violence work that’s already under way - and the progress that so many of you are leading - in big cities and small towns across the country.  But, as this report clearly illustrates, we cannot yet be satisfied - and this is no time to become complacent.

That’s why I stood up this Task Force as part of the Defending Childhood Initiative: to enlist the help of experts, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and government agencies - as well as private sector partners, philanthropies, and foundations - in order to build engagement and discuss how we can take our collective work to a new level.  I’m looking forward to hearing your recommendations in just a few moments.  And I’m eager to explore ways to implement them.

But first, I’d like to take a moment to thank our Task Force chairs - Joe Torre and Bob Listenbee - for their leadership, and all of our Task Force members for their outstanding work.  I’d also like to extend a special welcome to the diverse group of allies and partners who are with us today - including Maurice Jones, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who we’re delighted to include in today’s proceedings - and whose efforts will be instrumental in evaluating and addressing the recommendations we’re about to hear.

In addition, I’d like to recognize my good friends Todd Jones, Acting ATF Director and United States Attorney for Minnesota; Melinda Haag, United States Attorney for the Northern District of California; Ron Machen, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia; Assistant Chief Peter Newsham, of the Metropolitan Police Department; and Melissa Hook, director of the D.C. Office of Victims Services, who is also here on behalf of the Mayor. 

I’d like to acknowledge a number of leaders and staff members from across the Justice Department, beginning with Karol Mason.  Karol, who traveled from Atlanta to be with us today, served as co-chair of the Defending Childhood Initiative until last year.  The current Initiative co-chairs - Anna Martinez and Phelan Wyrick - along with OJJDP staff members Catherine Pierce, Will Bronson, Peter Brien, and Robin Delany-Shabazz - the Designated Federal Official for this Coordinating Council - are also here.  I’d like to thank each of them, in addition to staff from the National Council for Crime and Delinquency.

And now, I’d like to hand things over to Melodee Hanes, vice chair and acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, who will move us forward.

Updated December 16, 2016