Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at the 2018 Summer Conference for the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia
Jekyll Island, GA
United States
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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery. 

Thank you, Bobby, for that generous introduction, and thank you for your service as United States Attorney.  You’ve had a long and distinguished career as a prosecutor, as a JAG, and as a judge.  And it all started at Samford University in Alabama.  And so I think Alabama deserves some of the credit.

Thank you to Peter for your leadership at the Council and for your three decades as a prosecutor and 26 years as a district attorney. 

Congratulations to all of our award winners.

I also want to thank District Attorney David Cooke.  Not everybody knows this, but David was an AUSA in Montgomery, Alabama, and he won an award from the Department of Justice for his work in Montgomery to protect children online.  Great job.

It is an honor to be with you, and to be with more than 600 of my fellow prosecutors and 150 investigators serving the people of this great state.

As a former Senator, I have to say, Georgia is well-represented in the Senate by my good friends Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.  You’ve also got three fabulous U.S. Attorneys: Bobby Christine, BJay Pak, and Charlie Peeler.  They’re doing a terrific job.  Let’s hear it for them.

On behalf of President Donald Trump, I want to thank each of you for dedicating your lives to enforcing our laws and to keeping our communities safe.

I was a federal prosecutor for 14 years, and there is nothing I am more proud of than that. We were a small U.S. Attorney’s office in Mobile, Alabama.

We took on corruption; we broke up national and international fraud schemes, and we took tons of drugs off our streets. I know that you all are having that same kind of impact and I thank you for that.

As a prosecutor, you have the honor of representing your state and community in court.  I will never forget the feeling of going before a judge and saying, “the United States is ready.”  I will never get over that feeling of knowing that I represented the greatest country in the history of the world.  I’m sure you feel the same way. And you can make a difference.

And we’ve had a couple of rising crime years recently, before the start of this administration.

From the early 1990s until 2014, the crime rate steadily came down across the country.

But from 2014 to 2016, the trends reversed.  The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent.  Robberies went up.  Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent.  Murder shot up by more than 20 percent!

Here in the Peach State, violent crime went up nearly eight percent.  Aggravated assault went up nearly twelve percent.  Murder went up 17 percent.

These numbers are deeply troubling—and especially since they represent a sharp reversal of decades of progress.  

We’ve got to get back on track.  We must take these recent developments seriously and consider carefully what can be done about them.  Yielding to these trends is not an option for America and certainly not to us in law enforcement. We have clear goals. From day one – I plainly stated our goal at DOJ – reduce crime, reduce homicides, reduce prescriptions, and reduce overdose deaths!

We will work with you reduce crime here in Georgia and across America – there is no other way.

Today I want to talk about three steps we are taking.

First, we’ve restored common sense and the rule of law to the way we charge criminals.

Under the previous administration, in drug cases, the Department of Justice directed federal prosecutors not to include in charging documents the full amount of drugs being dealt if it would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence.  Prosecutors were required to leave out facts in order to achieve sentences lighter than required by law.

But last year, after study and discussion with criminal justice experts, I restored the charging policy of this Department to the traditional one that was in place when I was in trying cases.  We are trusting our prosecutors again.

Once again, we are letting our prosecutors honestly charge offenses as Congress intended.  They should apply the laws on the books to the facts of the case—and in the rare instance where that is unjust—use discretion. 

Secondly, we’re also sending in reinforcements. The work is in the field.

We have a saying in my office that a new AUSA is 'the coin of the realm.'  When we can eliminate wasteful spending, one of my first questions to my staff is if we can deploy more prosecutors to where they are needed.  I have personally worked to re-purpose existing funds to support this critical mission.

We are hiring more than 300 new federal prosecutors—AUSAs—across America.  That includes 12 in Georgia.  This is the largest surge in prosecutors in decades.

But I would say that the centerpiece of our strategy is a new and modernized Project Safe Neighborhoods—or PSN. 

As many of you know, this program began in 2001.  Based around a set of core principles, PSN encouraged U.S. Attorneys’ offices to work with the communities they serve to develop customized crime reduction strategies.

This is a proven model.  One study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent.  That is a remarkable achievement.  There are Americans who are alive and well today because this program made a difference.

This is not just some theory.  We know that it works.  Just like we know a well run community policing program works.

It works because of its emphasis on partnership with local communities, and because it has arisen from experience and sound research.

PSN is not a Washington-centered program.  In fact, it’s the opposite. 

Every city and every district is facing a different set of circumstances and challenges.  For example, according to one study, half of all homicides in this country occur in just two percent of our counties.

Under PSN, I have directed our U.S. Attorneys to do two things.  First of all, to target and prioritize prosecutions on the most violent and most dangerous people in the most violent areas. 

If they know somebody is a violent criminal, we need them off the streets. 

Second, I’ve ordered our U.S. Attorneys to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders—from prosecutors to police chiefs to mayors to community groups and victims’ advocates—to identify the needs specific to their communities as they develop a violent crime reduction plan.

Forging new relationships with local prosecutors like you and building on existing relationships will ensure that the most violent offenders are prosecuted in the most appropriate jurisdictions.

And this PSN approach is already bearing fruit, including right here in Georgia.

At the end of March, six members of the 135 Pirus gang in Atlanta were arrested on charges of murder in the aid of racketeering.  The case is being investigated by our Safe Streets Task Force.

In the Northern District of Georgia, 78 defendants have been charged under the PSN program since we prioritized it back in October.

In the Middle District of Georgia, thanks to the fabulous street-level intelligence of Athens and Clarke County Police, we put a dangerous, career heroin dealer from Athens behind bars for 22 years.

And in the Southern District of Georgia, the FBI worked with the Dublin Police Department and the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office to investigate seven people for firearms offenses.  Last month, they were indicted and arrested.

There are many more cases we could talk about.  But the bottom line is this: when law enforcement officers work together, we get results.

PSN is helping us put criminals in jail.  Achieving sentences that are appropriate for the crimes they’ve committed.

As my former boss, President Reagan used to say, “most serious crimes are the work of a relatively small group of hardened criminals.”

That is just as true today as it was back then.

We’ve got to be smart and fair about who we put behind bars and for how long. This is not mindless “mass incarceration”. But prison does play a role.

Two months ago, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on the recidivism rate of inmates released from state prisons in 30 states.

This is the longest-term study that BJS has ever done on recidivism and perhaps the largest.  It was designed and started by the previous administration.  The results are clear and very important – historic importance.  The reality is confirms what experienced professionals like yourselves have seen.

The study found that 83 percent of 60,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested again within nine years.  That’s five out of every six.

The study shows that two-thirds of those – a full 68 percent – were arrested within the first three years.  Almost half were arrested within a year – one year – of being released.

The study estimates that the 400,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested nearly 2 million times during the nine-year period – an average of five arrests each.

Virtually none of these released prisoners were arrested merely for probation or parole violations: 99 percent of those arrested during the 9-year follow-up period were arrested for something other than a probation or parole violation.

In many cases, former inmates were arrested for an offense at least as serious – if not more so – as the crime that got them in jail in the first place.

It will not surprise you that this is often true for drug offenders.

Many have thought that most drug offenders are young experimenters or persons who just made a mistake.  But the study shows a deeper concern.

Seventy-seven percent of all released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years.  Presumably, many were arrested for drug crimes also. Importantly, nearly half of those arrests were for a violent crime. Sometimes arrests lead to treatment, drug courts – often the problem is more serious.

Recidivism is no little matter. It is a fact of life that must be understood.

But overall, the good news is that the professionals in law enforcement know what works in crime.  We’ve been studying this and working on this for 40 years.

As any prosecutor in this room can tell you, when a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing real time, he is a lot more willing to confess and cooperate with prosecutors.  On the other hand, when the sentence is uncertain and up to the whims of the judge, criminals are a lot more willing to take a chance.

Our goal as prosecutors is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons.  Our goal is not to manage crime or merely to punish crime.  Our goal is to reduce crime in America.

And with your help, that is what we are going to do.

Law enforcement is crime prevention.  When we enforce our laws, we prevent new crimes from happening.

As prosecutors, we have a difficult job, but our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels have a real impact.  With every conviction we secure, we make our communities safer.

Let me close by thanking all of you once again for choosing to do this noble work. Each of you is a bright light of hope and justice.

I and President and the American people properly support you. Keep up the good work thank you for having me here today. 

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Violent Crime
Updated July 22, 2018