Justice News

Remarks by Attorney General Holder at the Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Program Graduation Ceremony
Los Angeles, CA
United States
Friday, October 24, 2014

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s great to be in Los Angeles today.  It’s a pleasure to see firsthand the critical work you’re doing to build stronger, safer communities.  And it’s a privilege to be able to join our program participants – and especially our graduates – who are taking important steps to open a new chapter, and build better lives, for themselves and their families.

I know the journey that has led you to this moment has not been easy.  I know you’ve had to work hard and overcome tremendous adversity.  This program has presented both opportunities and challenges for each one of you.  It has required you to be honest with yourselves, and with your families and friends, about past mistakes and missteps.  It has demanded that you confront past conduct and marshal your strengths.  And it has given you the chance not only to get on the right path, but to reclaim your future – and even build a new one.

At times, it has been an uphill battle.  But your presence here today is not only inspiring – it is proof of the strength, and the sheer determination, that defines you.  And it’s emblematic of the courage that defines everyone who has the resolve to own up to their mistakes, to seek help and treatment, and to keep moving down the long and difficult – but rewarding – road to recovery and redemption.  Whatever has led you to this moment, I want you to know today that I could not be more proud of you, or the work that you are doing through this program.  Because I’ve seen, throughout my career, how tough it can be for people in your shoes to turn your lives around, to deal with unfairness, and to overcome adversity.

During my time as a judge on the Superior Court in Washington, D.C. – and later as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia – I saw how people who were convicted of crimes too often became trapped in a cycle of criminality and incarceration.  I saw – as so many of you have seen – that this cycle can weaken communities, tear families apart, and destroy individual lives.  Day after day, I watched as lines of young people – most often young men of color – streamed through my courtroom.  Too many of the faces I saw became familiar – because too many of the people I sentenced served their time, were released from prison, and sooner or later returned to the same behavior that had led them to my courtroom in the first place.  That’s one of the many reasons why I’m passionate about initiatives like this Conviction And Sentence Alternatives program – which can help strong, committed individuals like you to break that cycle and gain the tools you need to reenter your communities and lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Of course, I’m also here today because I believe that our country has a broader obligation to stand with you – and to support you – as you work to get, and stay, on the right track.  In many ways, I see in all of you some of the people I grew up with in Queens, New York.  They were friends, classmates, neighbors, and peers.  They were good, smart people who I saw every day – at school, at parties, or on the basketball court.  Yet some of them ended up taking different paths; not catching the same breaks; making mistakes, or poor choices – or getting involved with drugs and crime – that landed them in the criminal justice system.

So I understand why programs like this one are so important: not just because they offer alternatives to incarceration, but because they provide opportunities for strong, determined people like you – who have shown a commitment to reaching beyond yourselves and rising above disappointments, difficulties, and defeats – to get the tools, training, and resources you need to build better lives.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the dedication of the outstanding judges of this Court, including Judge [Dean] Pregerson and Judge [Dolly] Gee; the prosecutors serving in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California; representatives of Pretrial Services; and a wide range of community partners, including the Federal Public Defender and other members of the defense bar.  As a result of their efforts – and the tireless work of participants like you, who have refused to give up or give in – this program is preparing determined men and women to be more responsible citizens, more capable family members, and more healthy individuals.

I’ve been fortunate, during my tenure at the Department of Justice, to hear incredible success stories from people who have completed programs like this one across the nation.  Some have gone back to school; others have found meaningful employment; and still others are giving back by working with other men and women who struggle with these same issues. 

This represents remarkable progress.  It’s emblematic of the paradigm shift we’ve brought about in the way our country approaches certain criminal justice issues.  And it proves that this is exactly the kind of innovative, collaborative program that other jurisdictions should emulate and learn from – both across this state and around the country.

For President Obama – and for me – advancing this work has always been a personal and professional priority.  After all, as I’ve said many times before, we’ll never be able to incarcerate our way to better outcomes.  That’s why, in August of last year, I launched a sweeping new “Smart on Crime” initiative that is driving the Justice Department’s broad efforts to strengthen the criminal justice system across the board.  As a central part of this initiative, we have enhanced our focus on proven programs like this one – which has served as a model for Smart on Crime efforts throughout the nation.  I have directed every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator in his or her office.  And I’ve worked hard to call attention to promising diversion and reentry efforts from coast to coast – so we can ensure that this work will always be a top priority.

Of course, I understand, as you do, that significant challenges lie ahead – and the individual journeys before you will be difficult.  But that’s why I am so proud that you’ve already made such strong commitments – to this process, to yourselves, and to your futures.  Never lose sight of the positive impact that each of you can have – in improving your communities, strengthening your country, and serving as role models for those around you, especially the young people who look up to you.

I commend you for your dedication to these efforts.  I wish you all the best as you continue this important and innovative program.  And I look forward to hearing great things about everything that you will accomplish in the months and years ahead.

Thank you, once again, for the opportunity to be here today.  Please keep up the great work.

Updated August 18, 2015