Department Of Justice Designates April 24-30, 2016, As National Reentry Week In Support Of Its Smart On Crime Initiative
The United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Tennessee is smart on crime, and aggressive in pursuit of justice. Our office is composed of attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants and support staff who are dedicated to the mission of the Department of Justice. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system to ensure that federal law is administered fairly, equitably, and effectively. We were directed to target the most serious offenses, prosecute the most dangerous criminals, direct assistance to crime ‘hot spots,’ and pursue new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency, and fairness. This initiative from former Attorney General Holder came to be known as Smart on Crime.
We knew we had excelled for many years at these tasks, but we saw the challenge of finding new ways to look at deterrence, efficiency and fairness. We were also challenged to facilitate the successful reentry of former offenders, who have paid their debt to society through incarceration.
In 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office developed its Smart on Crime Initiative by devoting a fulltime Assistant U.S. Attorney, Brooklyn Sawyers, to coordinate the initiative across East Tennessee. Our initiative includes a crime prevention program in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office provides a live presentation about positive living and choices and consequences to juvenile offenders in Knox County Juvenile Court and the Richard Bean Juvenile Detention Center. One goal of the prevention program is to dismantle the proverbial school-to-prison pipeline in East Tennessee. The initiative also includes rigorous prosecution of criminals who violate federal law and whose bad acts will likely only be curtailed through a federal prison sentence.
The initiative also seeks to help former offenders who return to East Tennessee live law-abiding lives. While it may seem like new business for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide assistance to these former offenders, it is not new at all. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has always been involved when returning former offenders seek early release for good behavior while incarcerated. Our Assistant U.S. Attorneys have gone to prisons and half-way houses to explain the consequences of further criminal behavior after release. Another way to protect this community and seek justice is to remove obstacles that stand in the way of any citizen living a law-abiding life. Our Smart on Crime Initiative allows us to do just that by partnering with Chief U.S. Probation Officer, Tony Anderson, and his office. Through that partnership, we convene community resource providers who are already in the business of providing services that former offenders need, and have them explain their services to the former offenders who may avail themselves of those services. The meetings occur across the district in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Johnson City on a monthly or quarterly basis. Topics thus far have included substance abuse treatment, how to obtain a driver’s license, housing options, and much more.
Community service providers who have contributed to the Chattanooga effort include: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Chattanooga; Bureau of Prisons Half-Way House; United Way 2-1-1; Tennessee Department of Human Services; Pastor Ternae Jordan and Mt. Canaan Baptist Church; Tennessee Career Center; Chattanooga State Community College; BlueCross BlueShield; Marion County Chaplain; Father to the Fatherless; Stephen’s Table; Northside Neighborhood House; Christian Women’s Job Corp; Behind the Bars; and Joe Johnson Mental Health Center. Community service providers who have contributed to the Knoxville reentry effort include: Knoxville Leadership Foundation; Tennessee Department of Safety; Knox County Health Department; Knoxville Police Department; Federal Bureau of Investigation, Knoxville Division; Susannah House; Helen Ross McNabb; Cokesbury Church; Focus Group Ministries; and Pastor James Davis and Eternal Life Harvest Center. Community service providers who have contributed to the Johnson City reentry effort include: Grace Fellowship Church; Summit Leadership Foundation; Frontier Health; Families Free; Drug Enforcement Administration, Johnson City; and Johnson City Police Department.
The importance of these community service organizations coming together to help former offenders cannot be understated. Convening these organizations in a central location for former offenders increases accessibility and the likelihood that they will use the services. Further, by understanding what their communities offer, former offenders are better prepared to live law abiding lives, which impacts the safety of all the residents of East Tennessee.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch echoed similar sentiment when she designated the week of April 24-30, 2016, as National Reentry Week. She emphasized the importance of preparing those who have paid their debt to society for substantive opportunities beyond the prison gates, and addressing obstacles to successful reentry.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office will participate in National Reentry Week, because we all have an interest in reducing crime in our communities. By encouraging former offenders to live crime-free lives and become productive citizens supporting their families and their communities, we can make a difference. Our activities this week will include in-house training and our regularly scheduled call-in meetings throughout the week. There are many opportunities for the community to become involved as well. If you are interested in this initiative, please consider volunteering for a community-based organization that is dedicated to serving all people. By working together, we can all be smart on crime.
Nancy Harr, Acting U.S. Attorney