Thank you, Associate Attorney General [Stuart] Delery, for that kind introduction and for your exceptional leadership here at the Department of Justice. I also want to thank Karol Mason, our outstanding Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, as well as Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, the Department of Education’s Deputy Secretary John King and our distinguished panelists from across the country. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today and a privilege to join so many dedicated public servants and innovative thought leaders as we discuss the unique challenges facing young adults who come into contact with the criminal justice system; as we examine new ways to approach these critical issues; and as we commit to moving this conversation forward in order to build a stronger and more effective criminal justice system that better serves our communities and our country.
Today’s important event speaks to one of the main priorities of the Department of Justice: pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deter criminal behavior and bolster the effectiveness of our criminal justice system. That mission is as vital now as it has ever been – and it holds particular promise with regard to young adult populations. Young adults are disproportionately likely to be arrested in general; disproportionately likely to be arrested for violent acts in particular; and more likely than any other age group to commit additional crimes within three years. These realities represent real and daunting challenges. But they also underscore the need for those of us involved in law enforcement and criminal justice policy to understand these issues; to examine new ideas and approaches; and to engage in conversations like this one to share knowledge and explore solutions.
Research indicates that as young adults age through their late teens and early 20s, they experience a period of rapid and profound brain development. In addition to providing insight into why young adults act the way they do, brain science also indicates that we may have a significant opportunity, even after the teenage years, to exert a positive influence and reduce future criminality through appropriate interventions. It raises the possibility that considering these unique stages of development within the criminal justice setting, we could reduce the likelihood of recidivism and create important benefits for public safety. And it offers a chance to consider new and innovative ways to augment our criminal justice approach.
That process will involve gaining the knowledge and the expertise of stakeholders from all quarters, from scientific experts to law enforcement officials and from community leaders to victims’ organizations. Throughout these efforts, we intend to keep the needs of victims at the center of our work – and to find the right methods and the right strategies to simultaneously achieve justice for victims of crime while also holding young adults accountable and reducing their likelihood of engaging in future criminal behavior.
This panel is a vital and exciting part of that ongoing initiative. In your work today – and in the work you will carry on after you leave this conference – you will explore some of the most promising practices in use for appropriate cases around the country. You will discuss young adult courts that specialize in the kinds of crimes that can result from a young person’s poor decision-making or impulsive behavior; diversion programs that impose appropriate punishments while guiding young people toward opportunities for improvement; and restorative justice practices that offer a sense of community to justice-involved young people. You will examine the promise of specialized probation caseloads and parole supervision programs that provide tailored services; rehabilitative housing units that focus specifically on incarcerated young people; and enhanced confidentiality through sealing or expunging records to help deserving young people get back on the right path and stay out of the criminal justice system for good. And you will talk about the unique and important role that brain development science and trauma research can play in informing new policies and initiatives as we work to safeguard victims and achieve positive outcomes.
I have no illusions that this work will be easy. These are complex issues and we face very real challenges. But with friends and allies like all of you here today – and with your passion, your engagement and your commitment – I have no doubt that we can make real and critical progress on behalf of our communities and our nation. Thank you, once again, for your contributions to this mission and for your outstanding work in the service of this effort. I am excited to see where these new ideas will take us in the years ahead. And I look forward to all that we will achieve together in the days and months to come.