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

National Sheriffs' Association
2010 Winter Meeting
January 21, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Sheriff Zaruba. It's great to be here.

       I want to thank the National Sheriffs' Association for inviting me to speak, and for giving me the chance to talk about something that's very important to me as Assistant Attorney General - and that's our partnership with NSA and the nation's sheriffs.

       But before I do, I want to take a moment to express my tremendous gratitude for your help and support during my confirmation process. As some of you know, I served as Assistant Attorney General at OJP for seven years under President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, and I had no plans to return. But Eric Holder - who can be quite persuasive - convinced me that there was important work to be done at the Department of Justice - and one of the most important things we needed to do was to rebuild those partnerships with our nation's sheriffs and police chiefs.

       So I'm very glad to be back and to be working alongside all of you.

       Partnership is a theme that Eric Holder has stressed since the transition. The Attorney General has emphasized that partnerships with county, local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies are critical to getting the job done in public safety.

       Just a few short months after coming on board, the Attorney General held a national law enforcement summit back in April. I also convened a series of listening sessions at OJP to hear from our stakeholders about what they see as the biggest challenges and what we could do to help.

       I'm a firm believer that all wisdom does not reside on the banks of the Potomac. It comes from the mountains of Colorado, the small towns of Mississippi, the streets of Laredo, the border towns of Arizona, the counties of Michigan - and the list goes on.

       You are more than grant recipients to us. You are the source of the most important information we have about what is happening on the front lines in the fight against crime.

       Now, I had to go and mention grants. I've noticed throughout my career that agencies that have a funding mandate often like to pretend that funding is not part of what they do - like "funding" is a bad word. Well, let me just say that we are about money at OJP. It's not all we do - we're also about being smart on crime, as the Attorney General often says.

       But since I mentioned it, let's talk about money.

       Last year, we moved a total of about $5 billion through OJP in about six months. Of course, much of that was Recovery Act funding - and I was pleased that many sheriffs' offices were able to benefit from that money.

       I was also grateful for the lessons we learned during the Recovery Act process. We saw just how badly many small agencies need support - and not just operational support, but basic assistance in getting access to funds. We could see that many rural agencies lacked the technical capacity even to apply for grants. And many of the things that bigger agencies take for granted - like money for fuel - were hard to come by in those areas. We know that sheriffs often have large areas to cover, so this can be a big problem. And I want to thank NSA for helping us to better understand those challenges.

       I was also pleased that we were able to make additional money available under the Recovery Act for the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants program. Last year, between the Recovery Act and regular funding, we awarded almost $2.5 billion under Byrne/JAG.

       And I want to make it clear - in case there was any doubt about where we stand - I regard Byrne/JAG as our flagship program, and I am proud to be associated with it.

       Looking ahead, we all know 2011 will undoubtedly be a tight year, but I'm convinced that this Administration will do well by our friends in the law enforcement community.

       Of course, law enforcement is just one of a sheriff's duties. You also have a major responsibility for managing jails - in particular, for managing offenders as they cycle in and out of jails.

       We know the challenges corrections officials across the spectrum are facing with reentry. But the challenges you face in managing jails are unique. For one thing, stints in jail are brief in comparison with prison terms, so there is much less time for release planning. Also, the jail population is very diverse. You have sentenced offenders, probation and parole violators, pre-trial detainees, even state and federal prisoners - so it's tough to get a handle on the comings and goings of inmates. And then, of course, there's the sheer volume. Our best estimates have it that there as many as 12 million jail releases in a given year. That dwarfs the 700,000 that come out of our prisons every year.

       Last year, OJP awarded $28 million in funding under the Second Chance Act to support reentry programs. And this year, I'm pleased that Congress gave us $100 million for reentry programs under Second Chance. These grants will do several things, including providing mentoring, literacy classes, job training, education, and mental health counseling for returning offenders.

       And I want to let you know about a solicitation recently posted by our Bureau of Justice Assistance and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for reentry demonstration programs. That solicitation closes on March 4th, and you can find details on our Web site.

       We've also funded a National Reentry Resource Center, which is 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. We want this resource center to really be a vehicle for getting communities to be active about reentry.

        I also want to make sure that you have the tools you need to maintain order in your jails. Our National Institute of Justice is supporting testing of an array of technologies designed to prevent weapons and drug smuggling and illegal communication with people on the outside.

        We're aware of the stories about inmates arranging drug transactions and gang murders from behind bars using cell phones and other communications devices. NIJ evaluated an imaging system being used at a prison in Pennsylvania, which showed that it improved the contraband situation there. NIJ is also funding development of a system that can identify contraband hidden in body cavities.

       NIJ is also supporting the development of portable scanners and tracking devices to help manage movement in jails. Once these technologies are fully tested and available, they should provide a big boost to you in managing inmates.

       And while we're talking about your role in managing offenders, let me just say a word or two about the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). I know this is a major concern of yours.

       The subject of sexual assault in jails and prisons has gotten a lot of attention lately. And we'd all agree that it is a very serious problem that we need to aggressively address.

       The Attorney General understands not only the magnitude of the problem, but also the challenges you face in dealing with the problem. He is personally overseeing the Department's review of the PREA Commission's recommendations, and he is seeking input from all interested stakeholders - including, of course, corrections officials and sheriffs. There will be opportunities for formal written comment when the proposed regulations, but I invite you all to share your feedback with us even before the comment period.

        Looking ahead, we know this is a time of challenges. But it's also a time of opportunities. We now know a great deal about how to address crime and what can be effective, and this knowledge is especially critical at a time of diminished resources.

        We're working in OJP to expand our menu of programs and approaches that have been shown to be effective in preventing and reducing crime, including the problems of gangs and violent crime. We're trying to bring science into the way we do business, and to get information out there about what works, and what can help you do your jobs most effectively - whether it's knowledge about a proven crime-fighting approach like hot spots policing, or adapting new technologies like detection devices that can pick up and neutralize cell phone use in jails. This harvesting of knowledge and tools, I think, is one of the important roles we can play in OJP.

        This is a challenging time, but it's also an exciting time. There's a lot for us to do, but I think we've got a great foundation to build on, especially when we tackle it together.

        It's a privilege to be back at OJP working with you - our nation's sheriffs. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today, and I look forward to many good things ahead.

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