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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Major County Sheriffs' Association
Mid-Winter Meeting
January 19, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Sheriff Gillespie.I appreciate the opportunity to be here to talk about some of the ways the Office of Justice Programs can expand on our partnership with Major County Sheriffs - that's both upper and lower case, major county sheriffs.

       I could spend most of my time this morning just listing all the challenges you're facing - everything from information sharing and interoperability, to reentry, to gangs, to sex offender management, and a thousand things in between. Clearly, I don't need to do that - you know what the challenges are - but I do feel it's important that I acknowledge the incredible scope of what you're faced with. And also to let you know that we know what you're up against - and we're grateful for everything you do to keep our counties and communities safe.

       This Administration and this Attorney General value our relationship with sheriffs. The Attorney General held a law enforcement summit last April, and I know Major County Sheriffs' was represented. I also held a series of listening sessions shortly after I came to OJP. And I did that because I felt it was important to send a message early on that you will be heard at OJP and the Department.

       I know that one of your biggest concerns over the last few years has been with regard to funding. And I just want to say that I - and the Department's current leadership - fully understand the importance of funding for law enforcement. Both the President and the Vice President made this point during the campaign, as well. We believe that funding is central to what we do. It's not all we do, but it is critical. Last year, we moved almost $5 billion out the door within six months, so we're pretty good with our money.

       Between the Recovery Act and our regular fiscal year money, almost $2.5 billion went for Byrne/JAG. And I just want to say to you - and I'll say the same thing when I speak at the National Sheriffs' Association meeting on Thursday - that Byrne/JAG really is our flagship program, and I'm proud to be associated with it. I know sheriffs and local law enforcement - all of you - really depend on those funds to support basic operations, and I'm very pleased that we were able to make those extra dollars available through the Recovery Act.

       Looking ahead, we all know 2011 will undoubtedly be tight, and we don't know the budget figures yet, but I'm convinced that this Administration will do well by our friends in the law enforcement community.

        Now, I want to turn to the subject of information sharing. I know Sheriff Gillespie has been leading the charge on this, and I want to thank him for his clear-eyed assessment of the issues during his testimony last March.

        Just to highlight a couple of issues, our Bureau of Justice Assistance - BJA - continues to be part of the efforts to expand the role of fusion centers. BJA and DHS have been providing fusion center guidance and technical assistance for a number of years. And this will, of course, become even more important with the new Program Management Office on fusion centers, which will be housed at DHS and will provide funding and guidance for fusion centers at the state and local levels.

        The White House also called for the creation of another Program Management Office on Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR). This is another issue that Sheriff Gillespie mentioned during his testimony, and I want to say how much I appreciate his leadership on this effort - and the involvement of so many of you. You've played an active role in getting this off the ground, and I think it's really paying dividends. We're supporting nine SAR sites, and we've already seen improvements in cross-jurisdictional coordination.

        We've also developed privacy policy templates - and I appreciate the plug that you gave during your testimony, Sheriff Gillespie.

        I also just want to mention that we're making a special effort to make sure that information gathered and maintained through local agencies can be shared and still locally controlled. I think that's an important role that OJP and BJA can play for you in the Justice Department. For example, BJA is using the shared space concept to create an information exchange model for sharing gang intelligence. As many of you know, the idea behind shared space is that each of the participants has a server that it loads its information into, but the local agency retains control of the information instead of sending it to a centralized or federal system. We believe this notion of local management and control is very important, and I think it is for all of you, as well.

        I also want to touch on issues related to your role in managing jails - in particular, managing offenders as they cycle in and out of jails. Last year, we awarded $28 million under the Second Chance Act, and this year I'm pleased that Congress gave us $100 million for reentry programs under Second Chance.

        BJA and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) have already posted a solicitation for reentry demonstration programs. It closes on March 4th. You can find details on our Web site.

        We also funded a National Reentry Resource Center. It's already up and running. It has information about promising practices and research, and it also makes training and technical assistance available to counties and local jurisdictions.

        I know BJA will be holding a workshop on reentry here. Gary Dennis, BJA's Senior Policy Advisor for Corrections, will be presenting.

        I know that many of you are working in partnership with other agencies in your jurisdictions and community groups to help jail inmates reintegrate. I also know that you're all thinking about how to manage returning offenders through alternatives like drug courts and mental health courts. There are innovative programs like the jail diversion facility in Bexar County, Texas for people with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

        We know these alternatives have great promise, but - frankly - they're not used enough. So I want to really applaud those of you who have adopted these approaches - and to encourage others to look closely at these kinds of options. They make sense for a number of offenders.

        An issue that's closely related that I'll mention briefly is our Justice Reinvestment effort. This falls in with the Attorney General's emphasis on smart-on-crime approaches. What we're doing through this program is to help counties and states take a look at their offender populations and determine how to reallocate funds in a way that reduces recidivism and saves money. The idea is to figure out how we can make investments in communities and reduce the chances of reoffending.

        And finally, let me just touch on an issue that I know you - and sheriffs from both large and small jurisdictions across the country - are concerned about. And that's sexual assault in jails and prisons.

        This, as you well know, has gotten renewed attention recently with the report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing the high incidence of sexual assault in juvenile facilities. I think we can all agree that these are very disturbing findings, and that - whether it involves juveniles or adults - sexual assault is a very serious problem that we need to aggressively address. And I know that you all hold yourselves to the highest standard and want our institutions to be free of sexual assault.

        But I know you also have concerns from a practical standpoint, as front-line managers and practitioners, about some of the recommendations in the PREA Commission Report. The Attorney General is personally overseeing the Department's review of the recommendations, and he is seeking input from all interested stakeholders - including, of course, corrections officials and sheriffs. In fact, a number of sheriffs have been invited to participate in a listening session of the Department's PREA Working Group on Monday.

        So it's important that you know that the Department is serious about getting your input about what you think can work. In addition to the listening session, there will be opportunities for formal written comment on the proposed regulations.

        This goes back to what I said earlier about partnerships. We want to work together with you on this issue - and on all the issues and challenges that sheriffs are facing in our largest counties. I hope you'll keep the lines of communication open and that you'll share your thoughts and concerns with us.

        Thank you, and I'm happy to answer any questions.

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