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Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein Delivers Remarks to the American Correctional Association's Winter Conference


Orlando, FL
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery.


I am honored to join you for the American Correctional Association’s winter conference.  I want to thank Mark Inch for that thoughtful introduction. General Inch recently joined us to lead the Federal Bureau of Prisons, after a distinguished military career. He brings a great deal of talent and enthusiasm to the job.

They tell me it is unseasonably cold here, but I did not notice. Compared to Washington, D.C., Florida seems warm and welcoming. And I am referring to the people, not just the temperature!

I am always happy to leave our nation’s contentious capital and spend a few hours in America beyond the Beltway.

I am also glad to be here because it is an opportunity to talk with the men and women who work every day to manage our local, state and federal correctional programs and facilities. 

One of the Deputy Attorney General’s most important duties is to help manage the Bureau of Prisons. BOP is responsible for housing about 185,000 inmates. We oversee 122 federal prisons, 11 private prisons, and more than 200 community-based facilities.  

I am honored to work with more than 38,000 BOP employees.  We work hard to make sure that all facilities, public and private, house our inmates in humane and safe conditions.  

But federal work is only a fraction of the corrections work that is performed in our country.  Across the nation, about half-a-million correctional workers supervise about two million incarcerated persons. Another 4 million adults are under other forms of supervision.

The American Correctional Association has a proud history of supporting the work of prison and jail officials.  More than 147 years ago, in 1870, corrections officials from the United States and abroad met in Cincinnati, Ohio and adopted a “Declaration of Principles” they believed should guide the field of corrections.

One of your principles is that the purpose of incarcerating criminals is “the protection of society.”

One of the most important management principles is that it is essential to articulate the big-picture goal for an organization. That vision filters down into how other managers understand their mission, and ultimately into everything that our employees do. 

In law enforcement, our goal is to reduce crime. 

Correctional agencies play a critical role in achieving that goal.

By providing inmates with structure, and teaching them discipline and skills during their incarceration, you increase the probability that they will become productive members of society and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.  

When I read the original version of your principles, I noticed that the word “reform” appears 27 times. The word “rehabilitate” does not appear at all.

Rehabilitation came into vogue as a sentencing goal in the 20th century. Many people ultimately concluded that rehabilitation was not a realistic goal for prisons. 

After spending almost three decades in law enforcement, I agree that we need to focus on reform of criminals, not rehabilitation. The reason is that “re-habilitation,” by definition, is about restoring a person’s good reputation and ability to work.

There are some criminals for whom rehabilitation is a reasonable goal. They are people who lived law-abiding lives and were productive members of society, before something went wrong and caused them to go astray.

But many of the career criminals housed in our prisons unfortunately were not properly habilitated before they offended. The criminals who were not productive members of society need reform, not rehabilitation.

Admitting that most of our inmates need reform is not a way of disparaging the criminals. It is instead a frank way to acknowledge that our task is more than just helping them overcome a few mistakes.

Many inmates do not just lack self-restraint. They lack job skills. They lack education. They lack family structure. They lack discipline.

While they are under governmental supervision, you have the chance to help them reform by imposing discipline and offering opportunities for improvement. 

The most important thing for many inmates to learn is the discipline of following a schedule: wake up at a particular time, report to work when required, eat meals at the designated hours, and go to bed early enough to start fresh the next morning. 

Some of the programs you offer also may be useful to reform inmates and set them on the right path. Programs such as institutional work assignments, prison industries, substance abuse treatment, and educational or vocational training.

Your work makes our communities safer.  

The principles from 1870 also codify the professionalism that defines corrections officials. They explain that “[s]pecial training, as well as high qualities of head and heart, [are] required to make a good prison or reformatory officer.”  

Whenever I visit jails and prisons, I always notice the professionalism of corrections officials.

You show up every day prepared to perform an honest day’s work, but often you are not met with the respect and dignity you deserve.  But by acting with dignity, professionalism, and respect, even in challenging circumstances, you serve as an exemplar of how to behave for those in your charge.

Like many corrections agencies, BOP faces the threats posed by the introduction of contraband.  Cell phones and drones are new challenges created by technological advances.  BOP is working to create new strategies to counter those threats.  

Cell phones are a special problem.  BOP confiscated 5,116 cell phones from inmates in 2016 alone, and the preliminary numbers for 2017 indicate an increase. That is a major safety issue.  

Cell phones are used to run criminal enterprises, facilitate the commission of violent crimes, and thwart law enforcement.  

When I was U.S. Attorney in Maryland, we prosecuted an inmate who used a smuggled cell phone to order the murder of an innocent witness. 

Our Department recently prosecuted an inmate in Tennessee who used a smuggled cell phone to download and transmit child pornography.

In another case, a gang member in North Carolina used a contraband cell phone to order an attack on a prosecutor’s father. 

After I learned about the enormous harm caused by contraband cell phones in Maryland several years ago, it was very frustrating that federal regulations prevented us from implementing a solution.

In my current position, I hope to help solve the problem and find ways to disable contraband cell phones in correctional facilities. BOP is working with our federal and state partners to overcome the legal and technological hurdles. 

The Department of Justice now supports regulatory changes that will make it easier to deploy cell phone jamming and interdiction technologies.

On January 17, BOP will test micro-jamming and evaluate whether we can use that new technology in prisons without disrupting services in the surrounding area.   

In the old days, cell phones and other contraband items entered our facilities through the doors, or the loading docks. In some cases, they were thrown over the fence.

Today, we face another technological threat: drones that can fly contraband into jail and prison yards.

Like cell phones, drones present both technological and legal challenges. Technological solutions to detect and disrupt drones are in their infancy. 

Before using any technologies, we need to evaluate their compliance with a maze of federal and state laws governing the interception of electronic communications, and even laws that criminalize actions aimed at disabling aircraft.  

Dealing with the legal challenges requires legislation, so the Trump Administration is working with the Congress on solutions. 

As new challenges emerge, we must continue to adapt.  And in the face of these new challenges, corrections officials must continue to work tirelessly to maintain order at their facilities.  

Being a correctional officer is a dangerous job.  Your profession has a high rate of work-related injuries. And of course, some make the ultimate sacrifice. 


Federal Correctional Officer Eric Williams was killed by an inmate on February 25, 2013.  While Officer Williams was performing his duties, an inmate waited for him at the top of a set of stairs.  Williams was met with a brutal barrage of stabs and blows.  We will never forget Officer Williams.  

Correctional workers serve their agency’s mission by running towards danger.  When a body alarm sounds, they rush to the side of their colleague.  

Officers perform CPR for inmates in distress, hoping to make the critical difference that saves a life.  And as we saw during the hurricane season, corrections officers respond to crises brought on by extreme weather and flooding.  

Most people don’t think about what goes on behind the walls and fences of prisons and jails.  President Ronald Reagan once remarked that “[t]hose who say that we’re in a time when there are not heroes, they just don’t know where to look.”  

One good place to look is around this room, at the men and women who work in local, state, and federal corrections.

Unfortunately, several state and local corrections officers lost their lives last year.       
Georgia correctional officers Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica were murdered on June 13, 2017, when two inmates escaped from a prison transport bus.

Sergeant Joseph Ossman, of the Florida Department of Corrections, and Deputy Sheriff Julie Bridges, of the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office, both died on September 10, 2017. When Hurricane Irma struck and most people evacuated, Sergeant Ossman and Deputy Sheriff Bridges reported for duty. They were killed in a car crash. 

I offer my heartfelt sympathy to those heroes’ families and friends.  

We all understand that law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day.  Many Americans were reminded of the dangers on June 12, 2016, when a gunman took 49 innocent lives and injured 58 people at the Pulse Night Club here in Orlando. 

The Orlando Police Department worked with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to respond to that horrendous terrorist attack. Their response saved many lives.  

Every time you report for duty in law enforcement, you know that you are putting yourself in danger.  You do it even though you may be afraid, and even though you may have a family waiting at home.  

It is not easy to kiss your spouse, parent, or child goodbye, knowing the dangers you may encounter on your shift.  

Attorney General Sessions and I understand and appreciate the difficulties you face and the sacrifices you make. It is reassuring for law enforcement officers and their families to know that the Department of Justice has their back in these challenging times.  

The violent crime rate in America declined steadily for about twenty years. But in 2014, something changed. In 2015 and 2016, violent crime jumped by about seven percent. 

Nationwide, homicides soared by more than 20 percent over the same period.

In Baltimore, where I worked for over a decade, local, state and federal authorities joined together to dismantle violent gangs and send armed criminals to prison for lengthy terms. As a result, the murder rate dropped to a record low in 2011, and stayed relatively low until 2014. But in 2015, local authorities decided to try a new strategy. They decided to cut back on policing and prosecution. What happened next?

Baltimore’s murder rate skyrocketed. In 2017, the murder rate was the highest in history. Hundreds of additional people lost their lives, and many hundreds more were wounded by bullets.

The increases in violent crime are not acceptable.  We need to send a loud and clear message that we will not allow criminals to wreak havoc in any American city. 

President Trump directed the Department of Justice to support law enforcement nationwide and to collaborate with state, local, and tribal jurisdictions to restore public safety to all of our communities. 

Our Department plays an important role in reducing crime.  But eighty-five percent of our nation’s law enforcement officers are state, local, and tribal. 

The Attorney General directed the Department to conduct a review to ensure that we fully and effectively promote a positive relationship with our law enforcement partners.

We will work with those partners and use every lawful tool to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate violent criminals. 

If local authorities join us to support law enforcement and fight crime, we know that our crime-reduction strategies will succeed.

And in high-crimes areas where reducing violent crime unfortunately is not the top priority for local officials, we will do what we can on our own.  

The Attorney General also restored the Department’s traditional charging policy. Our revised policy once again empowers federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious, readily provable offense. That allows prosecutors to dismantle criminal organizations. 

The Department of Justice also reinvigorated Project Safe Neighborhoods. That program is central to our crime-reduction efforts.  It is a nationwide strategy to reduce violent crime by tasking our U.S. Attorneys to work cooperatively with our partners and use all available tools to make all of America’s neighborhoods safe again.  

Our Department also launched the National Public Safety Partnership, which provides extra assistance to places that are experiencing high levels of violent crime.  

Additionally, we are hiring more federal prosecutors.  And through hiring grants, more police officers will patrol the streets.    

Apart from devoting our own agents and prosecutors, we provided over $207 million in grants to support state, local, and tribal law enforcement efforts to reverse the violent crime trend.

As we work to reduce violent crime, we also are fighting another frightening trend, the rise in drug overdoses.  There were about 8,000 overdose deaths in 1990.  But in 2016, authorities estimate that 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses.  

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

Synthetic opioid drugs such as fentanyl are fueling the epidemic.  Fentanyl and its analogues are often mixed with heroin.  Because of its potency, fentanyl can be transported in smaller quantities and is easier to smuggle across borders or into prisons.  

The epidemic did not develop overnight.  Reversing the trend will require sustained and coordinated efforts across all levels of government. Law enforcement officers are on the front lines.

Overprescribing of painkillers such as oxycodone is a significant contributing factor to the surge in drug overdose deaths.  Many overdose victims get addicted to opioids after receiving a prescription painkiller.  Prescription pill abusers may later turn to heroin and fentanyl. 

In 2015, health care professionals in the United States prescribed three times as many opioids as they did in 1999.  The United States now consumes over 80% of all the prescription opioids in the world.

We need American medical professionals to stop overprescribing powerful drugs that lead to life-altering addiction.

We are already making progress. Last July, the Department of Justice and our federal law enforcement partners announced the largest healthcare fraud takedown in US history.  The work involved more than 1,000 state and federal agents and resulted in charges against more than 400 defendants.  The scheme involved fraudulent opioid prescriptions that caused the government to be defrauded out of about $1.3 billion.  115 of the defendants were doctors, nurses, or other licensed professionals.

To continue and increase our investigative efforts on this front, the Attorney General announced the creation of our Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.  The unit focuses on opioid-related health care fraud, and uses data analytics to identify entities contributing to the opioid epidemic.  We assigned twelve experienced federal prosecutors to participate in the initiative.  

Drugs enter our prisons through a variety of methods. The explosive growth of synthetic drugs poses a difficult challenge for jails and prisons.  Synthetic drugs can be much more potent than traditional drugs, and they can be more easily concealed.  

For example, fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more deadly than heroin.  It can be lethal to ingest an amount as small as two milligrams, the equivalent of a few grains of table salt.  Fentanyl is manufactured in laboratories, and the chemical composition can be adjusted to create analogue drugs. Fentanyl analogues can be even more deadly.  

Carfentanil is so powerful that it literally is used as an elephant tranquilizer. It can be 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.  

Those drugs do not only endanger inmates. They also harm law enforcement officers who come in contact with them.  

To combat the threat, our Department participates in a working group with the Department of Homeland Security and other stakeholders. The group focuses on technological developments that may help prevent drugs from entering our facilities.  

The DEA recently gave official notice that it will use its legal authority to schedule fentanyl and all of its analogues. That will permit the DEA to recognize the threat that fentanyl poses to our communities and to change the existing legal framework as a result.  

When the scheduling takes effect, it will reduce evidentiary hurdles that make it more difficult to convict fentanyl distributors and manufacturers. 

Scheduling also will send a message to China, which is the primary source of illegal fentanyl. We need China to take action against deadly drugs that are being produced on its soil and shipped to the United States. 

Just last week, Attorney General Sessions thanked the Chinese government for announcing that it would restrict two precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl.

There is much more that we can do to reduce crime. By working together, we can reverse the violent crime and drug overdose trends, and we can save lives.

Before I conclude, I want to discuss human trafficking, because January is national slavery and human trafficking prevention month.  Those crimes cause terrible harm to victims and their families.  

The term “human trafficking” describes two related types of crimes: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. 

Under federal law, labor trafficking involves obtaining labor by means of force or coercion.  Sex trafficking involves the prostitution of a victim by means of force, fraud, or coercion, or the prostitution of victims who are less than 18 years old.  No one should be subjected to human trafficking in any form, particularly in the United States.

Our Department is working with our law enforcement partners to combat the evil of human trafficking in all its forms.  In 2017, the Department convicted 499 criminals for human-trafficking violations. 

Human trafficking is often a hidden crime. It usually involves exploiting victims who are vulnerable and whose absence may not be noticed. 

For example, we have seen cases where victims from poverty-stricken countries are brought to the United States to serve as nannies, domestic servants, farm laborers, or hotel workers.  

We also have seen impoverished victims of sex trafficking who are addicted to opioids and other drugs.  Because severely addicted persons will do almost anything to avoid suffering the effects of drug withdrawal, they are highly vulnerable to coercion.  

We work tirelessly to protect vulnerable people.  We must ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty that are part of our American heritage.

In 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem about the Star Spangled Banner that became our national anthem.

When Key referred to America as the land of the free and the home of the brave, he used a conjunction — he referred to the American people as both free and brave. 

But we must never forget that our nation is the land of the free only because it is the home of the brave. 

Freedom always comes at a cost. We need people to demonstrate courage and put themselves at risk in order to preserve the freedom that we value so dearly.

I want to save time for questions, so let me conclude now, with a thought about the important work that you do.  

President Abraham Lincoln said that “if you want to test a [person’s] character, give him power.”

Each of you exercises power: power as a leader, power as a manager, power as a colleague, and power over inmates under your supervision. 

Please use that power wisely. Use it to advance our shared goal of reducing crime.

Thank you very much.

Updated January 8, 2018