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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Center for Victims of Crime/OVC Vision 21 Forum

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Mai [Fernandez]. It's great to see so many survivors and professionals who work on behalf of survivors in one room working on one goal: building capacity in the crime victim services field. I really can't think of a goal that is more intricately tied to the success of the entire criminal and juvenile justice systems. We cannot truly deliver justice until we completely serve all victims. So, thank you for your work every day and your insight today!

     Crime victim issues have long been a personal passion of mine. I began my career in criminal justice as an Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts in the early 80s. We were considered a progressive office back then because we had victim advocates on staff. The advocates taught me that more than anything victims want to be respected throughout the criminal justice process. Often, maintaining dignity is, in fact, more important than the outcome of a case. That was a huge lesson for a young prosecutor, and one I'll never forget.

     Since then, I've had the pleasure of working with victim assistance professionals in D.C. during my time in the U.S. Attorney's Office. Later, I had the distinct honor of working with providers throughout the country as the Director of the National Center. I'd like to take this opportunity to commend Mai for all that she has done in this role to expand your mission and your impact. Finally, in my current role, I have the chance to help direct Justice Department priorities in this area. Of course, the heavy lifting in this task falls to our Office for Victims of Crime. Acting Director Joye Frost and her dedicated staff bring such passion to this work, and they certainly make my job easier. So, thank you, Joye. You'll get to hear a little more from Joye in just a few minutes.

     Since this is the fourth in a series of Vision 21 forums - and an important milestone in our overall efforts - I'd like to talk a bit about how Vision 21 fits into the larger priorities of this Justice Department and the Office of Justice Programs, or OJP. I think looking a little closer at the process of forming a vision will help make this connection clear.

     First, I'd like to highlight the fact that creating a vision actually demands the engagement of all of our faculties. True vision is complex; it often comes into focus gradually, following careful study.

     That's why Vision 21 started with comprehensive literature reviews completed by the National Center and other project partners. We must know where we are now and where we need to go before we can create a blueprint for how to get there.

     This focus on careful analysis is one of the Justice Department's top priorities. We are committed to promoting programs and approaches that are "smart on crime." Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, I can assure you that this is more than a mere buzzword. For this Department, being smart on crime means resisting knee-jerk reactions, investing in solid research, and ensuring that evidence is translated so it is useful to all of you on the frontlines.

     As part of this effort, OJP launched an Evidence Integration Initiative last year, which we call E2I. The goal of E2I is to ensure that practitioners and policymakers can understand, access, and integrate evidence into their programs and policies. It really is about bridging the gap between research and the real world - about making sure that the evidence we generate is useful and useable.

     As one of our first steps, we've established Evidence Integration Teams to synthesize evidence on specific justice topics and develop principles for practice that we can share with the field. The first two teams addressed gangs and children exposed to violence - two topics that impact a huge number of victims. These teams culled through volumes of research, and they are preparing their final reports now.

     Further, to make sure that our efforts become part of an enduring legacy, Attorney General Holder convened the OJP Science Advisory Board in January. The Board is made up of scholars and practitioners who will offer recommendations for research, statistics, and grant programs.

     Your work on Vision 21 directly connects to the Administration's overarching goal to better use evidence. Evidence integration is critical to building capacity in the crime victims field.

     Beyond careful analysis, a well-defined vision also should include what we envision for the future. For this reason, Vision 21 is more than just a series of reports and forums. Ultimately, it will result in clear recommendations and action items. These will become a roadmap for the future of OVC and will inform priorities and inspire demonstration projects. We've enlisted your help because, as professionals in the field, you have the best gauge of what the future of the field can - and should - look like.

     This is just one of many examples of this Administration's commitment to collaborating with professionals. In fact, OJP's Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson has made fostering partnerships with professionals in the field one of her primary goals. In the last two years, we've held listening sessions with a wide variety of stakeholder groups - from Native American leaders to law enforcement to survivors - and these meetings will continue.

     Finally, vision often includes revision. Frequently, this may be the most important part of the vision process. These forums are part of our effort to highlight that importance. This is a time for debate and deliberation, examination and consideration. Nothing is set in stone, and nothing is off the table. We encourage all ideas and feedback!

     I think this process of revision is especially critical in today's victim services field. For far too long, victim services has been thought of as a profession where practitioners follow their "gut feelings." It has been seen as about instinctual reactions and personal touches. And, it is - in some ways. But the current demands on the field, as well as the current fiscal constraints being felt across the country, demand that we revise and expand this view.

     As I touched on earlier, this effort is part of a larger endeavor to integrate science into everything we do. Victim services are no exception. In our current environment, we have to serve more victims with fewer resources. Measurement and evaluation are more critical now than ever before. By generating and using research and evidence, we can better understand how to apply limited funding and manpower resources to best serve the most victims. You - the people who work with victims every day - are our best resources in the struggle to apply evidence to revise our approaches.

     Forming an accurate and complete vision is not easy - or quick, but it is imperative. With your input and expertise, Vision 21 has the potential to transform the victim services field. This project will guide our efforts to expand the impact of the victim services field. It will help us ensure that victim service professionals play a key role in addressing crime and delinquency. And it will help us provide justice for all victims.

     Thank you!


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