Posts Tagged ‘Office of Justice Programs’
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder may be a fan of the Justice Department’s prisoner reentry programs, but an audit released Wednesday by the DOJ’s Inspector General found the department is doing a poor job monitoring the effectiveness of programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

According to the report, the Inspector General’s office could not determine if Office of Justice Program grants were successful in reducing recidivism rates because the office does not effectively track how the programs that receive grants spend their funds.

The report included an audit of 10 grant programs worth $17.9 million from January 2005 through November 2009 which questioned how $5.2 million of that money was spent. The Inspector General found in the overall report, which covered three separate grant programs spanning from fiscal year 2002 through January 2010, that in many cases there was little documentation showing the office followed up with grantees after awarding them with funding.

More than 50 percent of those released from prison will be in legal trouble again within three years, according to OJP. The grant programs provide services to high-risk offenders — such as substance abuse prevention and employment and training assistance — in the hopes of reducing the rate of recidivism.

The Inspector General found that the office had not established an effective system to assess whether offender reentry programs were meeting their goals and called on OJP to improve the management and oversight of the programs.

The audit recommend 11 changes to OJP’s grant process, including establishing baseline recidivism data, developing a program to analyze the performance of programs, and identifying best practices.

Justice Department officials said in a statement that they already had taken steps to address many of the issues raised in the audit.

OJP officials said the office will implement a new system, called the performance measurement tool, to collect data on reentry grant programs. The new system would be in place by Oct. 1.

They said the findings would inform the implementation of the Second Chance Act Offender Reentry Initiative, which is a top priority for the administration.

The full report from the Office of the Inspector General is embedded below.

Offender Reentry

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Laurie Robinson at her installation ceremony in December (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson headed the Office of Justice Programs during the Clinton administration and has returned for a second round under President Barack Obama.

OJP is charged with preventing crime through research and development and managing the DOJ’s grant programs. Among the offices Robinson oversees are the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Office for Victims of Crime.

In an interview with Main Justice this week, Robinson talked about the changes since she headed OJP in the 1990s — the added burden of national security work on state and local law enforcement and the evolution of the Internet. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

Main Justice: This is your second stint as the head of the Office of Justice Programs. What changes have you noticed since your return?

Laurie Robinson: In the broader landscape, there have been huge changes coming back in the Post-9/11 era. Not only has the Department changed in that time, obviously with the focus on terrorism and national security, but for our constituency — state and local juvenile justice and tribal communities, state and local law enforcement — is grappling not only with local crime but with the added duties related to homeland security. That’s particularly difficult now in a time of diminished resources, a very stark difference from when I was here in the 90s.

One of the greatest differences from when I was here before was the technology changes in early 2000, the use of the Web was really in its infancy. We now have a much greater ability to reach our constituents. The world has changed in that regard, and I think it’s given us much greater tools to do our work [with] in this regard to complete our mission, which is sharing information and really engaging with our constituents in a two-way conversation…learning from them, and then sharing learning programs, technical assistance and really engaging in [a] partnership with them.

Laurie Robinson is formally installed as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in December (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

MJ: How have you seen local and state authorities dealing with those added national security challenges?

Robinson: I think it’s been a huge challenge. It’s been a huge challenge that both the last administration and the new administration and the country has grappled with. I think that state and local law enforcement has dealt with it actually very well, but that it remains, as I say, a challenge. They’re on the front lines in this country, as we saw with the Times Square episode in the last few days, you know it’s a challenge that requires alert members of the public, as we saw with the vendors in Times Square, as we saw with state and local law enforcement working hand in hand.

It doesn’t mean that in every instance everything will go like clockwork. But I think that nobody ever said that state and local law enforcement work is easy. I think that people go into this work because the seek challenges and this is one more thing on the plate.

MJ: What are the priorities you’ve set for the Office of Justice Programs?

Robinson: We don’t often have a chance to go back and have a second shot at a job, and I actually have to tell you… I never ever thought I would come back to OJP. I had to have my arm twisted to do this. I had a really nice life in academia and [Attorney General] Eric Holder really leaned on me to come back here. I’m very honored to be back here, and I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m not honored to do this. But coming back in, it’s kind of like with my eyes wide open, and say, ‘Ok. If I’m going to do it, I have some priorities here.’

There are three priorities. One — that we had to strengthen the partnerships with states, localities and the tribes. I thought that had weakened somewhat in recent years. So one of the first things I did here when I came back on Jan. 28, 2009, just a few days after the inauguration on an acting basis. I scheduled a series of listening sessions with constituent organizations across the board — juvenile justice, crime victims, domestic violence. To have them come in and tell us: what’s the agency doing well, what are we not doing well. It’s easy if you’re brand new, you’re not defensive about it.

Robinson at her installation ceremony in December (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: What did you hear back?

Robinson: Well we heard a lot of things, we heard everything from ‘You should be doing more to address pre-trial issues’ to ‘You aren’t getting your publications out quickly enough. You aren’t giving us information on rewards in a fast enough fashion. You should be more open about what kind of solicitations are out there.’ It was terrific to get that.

A lot of these groups said they hadn’t been invited in for eight years. So I thought it was really good just to open the doors and have organizations come in.

The second priority is evidence-based approaches. I think you’ve heard Eric Holder speak about this. We’ve had leading scientists nominated to lead both NIJ - National Institute of Justice - and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Both of them - John Laub and Jim Lynch - are awaiting confirmation. I’m always an optimist, I’m hoping they’ll be confirmed within the next weeks. That will be the first time in John Lauden’s case that we’ll have had a criminologist heading the National Institute of Justice since it was created back in 1968 by the Safe Streets Act.

We’re bringing in scientists to speak at NIJ, we’re bringing in scientists to meet with the Attorney General on various topics, and very importantly we’ve launched something called the Evidence Integration Initiative. It’s about [a few] things - one of them is about producing more evidence, because there are a lot of areas in which we don’t have enough research on what really works.

[Another] part is translating the evidence for the field. You can have all types of journal articles, long articles about, for example, domestic violence. But if you’re a small town mayor in Des Moines, Iowa, you don’t have time to go the the library and read those journal articles. You would like to have a page or two that says what I should be doing on drug issues, what should I be doing about cops dealing with domestic violence.

Joye Frost, Police Officer Art Billingsley, Laurie Robinson, Award recipient Michelle Rene Corrao and Eric Holder at the the 2010 National Crime Victims' Service Awards Ceremony (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

As I look back on my time in the 90s here, that’s one thing I would give myself a low mark on, that we did not do enough distilling of research. So I came back and heaped on the idea that I need to synthesize evidence better or distill it. So we put into the president’s budget request — well we recommended and he put in — two items. One of them is a what works clearinghouse on crime, and the second is a diagnostics center, or what I call a help desk.

The other piece of this is…that Congress has put so many different funding streams into OJP and the COPS office and the Office of Violence Against Women. Alone in OJP, we have over 75 different funding streams. For that mayor in Des Moines to know all those funding streams… that’s asking far too much of them. We need to have one place they can go.

My third priority is to ensure that our grants and grant process is run with integrity, and that the process is fair, transparent, and competitive. There have been issues in the past about whether the process was fully transparent and competitive. I am fully committed to working hand in hand with the Inspector General to make sure this is a process which is not only perceived as open and fair but in fact is.

All of this was not done thoroughly in the past, and we want a transparent system. I’ve written grant applications, a lot of people here have, and I want to make sure we make this a clear and easy system for our constituents. Writing grant applications is not a fun process, so we shouldn’t make it more difficult.

Assistant Attorney General Ron Weich, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson in a ceremony in December (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: What sort of new programs are you seeing an interest in funding from the field and in Congress?

Robinson: I’ve actually seen far greater interest at this point than when I was here before on Capitol Hill… in funding evidence-based programs. I’ve seen [it] on both sides of the aisle, which is extraordinarily promising. As an example, Sen. Jeff Sessions…is someone [to] whom I have spoken several times about science-based approaches and he’s been extraordinarily supportive.

Particularly in times when we’re looking at tight federal budgets, people want to ensure that we’re getting the best bang of the buck in federal dollars, in federal spending. And why would we be expending money in programs which haven’t proved to make a difference, particularly in such an important area as crime?

One priority for us, in the president’s budget for 2011 [is] the proposal to devote three percent of OJP’s budget as a set aside for research and statistics. I think that proposal, if approved, would represent a powerful statement of the effect of R & D (research and development) investment by the government in recognizing that we need to invest in preventing and crime.

That’s something that the private industry does - you have to make the initial investments in order to successfully prevent and control disease, and we need to do the same thing in crime.

MJ: The stimulus package meant a lot more work for your office. How did you deal with the influx of grant applications?

Robinson: Just a few weeks after I stepped into the job last year, Congress of course passed the stimulus bill, and we were off and running with $2.7 billion dollars in new money to get out the door. I’m very proud of the fact that within about seven months we were able to get out almost 3,900 grants and get out almost 99 percent of that funding.

The way we were able to do it is that I have here at OJP a remarkable team of career staff. I’d like to particularly mention our career Deputy Assistant Attorney General Beth McGarry. There was a career staff that was in place when I walked in who were already dealing with the potential that if the Recovery Act passed, there would be an increased workload. The Recovery Act funding issued equaled in effect, the workload that OJP would have ordinarily covered in an entire year.

I was so pleased [when] at the end of the summer, when we were getting out all of those grants, [Attorney General Eric Holder] came over to thank the staff and then was willing to have his picture taken with each one of the offices. If you have the time to walk through all the offices and cubicles, you’d see people have these pictures up.

Laurie Robinson and Attorney General Eric Holder at a ceremony for Crime Victims Week in April (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: How closely does the division work with other divisions across the department in relaying problems that are brought to your attention by state and local law enforcement?

Robinson: We work extremely closely with other parts of the department, ranging from the COPS office to the Office of Violence Against Women — who are our colleagues on the grant side in dealing with state and localities — to working very closely with the Criminal Division, the Deputy’s Office, the Associate’s Office.

As an example, we are on one of the working groups on Intellectual Property because of our work on that subject, working with states and localities. We participated on the executive working group that is the link to state attorneys general and state district attorneys. We have the executive office of U.S. Attorneys working in the Criminal Division. We meet regularly with the AGAC, the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee Group of U.S. Attorneys. So every Friday, I’m meeting with the component heads of the component heads, I’m meeting regularly with the Attorney General on things that he and I are working on.

So very regular communication. What that reflects is that Eric Holder has as one of his highest priorities the integration of state and local interests, integrating them into the priorities of the department.

The whole notion of the relationship and importance of that relationship with state and local law enforcement is something that he has embedded throughout the whole structure of the Justice Department. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ll get to you when we get to you.’ He communicates that throughout the department about the states and localities being partners in our work. It’s not an afterthought. It’s really very much integral to the way the department operates. The tone for that is really set at the top.

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would lay the groundwork for identifying useful crime prevention and intervention programs for state and local law enforcement agencies.

Russ Feingold (Gov)

The Prevention Resources for Eliminating Criminal Activity Using Tailored Interventions in Our Neighborhoods Act, dubbed the PRECAUTION Act, would establish a national commission that would act as a resource for state and local officials looking for proven law enforcement strategies.

The nine-member panel, which would include a Justice Department Office of Justice Programs official and crime experts, would draft a report on successful plans for state and local agencies to use. The commission also would identify promising programs that would be tried out in select municipalities using DOJ grant money.

“It is a long name, but it stands for an important principle — that it is better to invest in precautionary measures now than it is to pay the costs of crime — both in dollars and lives — later on,” Feingold said in a Senate floor statement Wednesday.

Feingold said state and local law enforcement officials have called for a resource to find effective crime prevention and intervention programs without sacrificing their limited funds.

“There is particular urgency for this bill as state and federal budget shortfalls continue and state and local law enforcement are forced to do more with fewer resources,” Feingold said. “There is no doubt that money is tight, which makes it all the more important that innovative and cost-effective law enforcement strategies that benefit both public safety and the government bottom line are being used in our communities.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

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Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider President Obama’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics at its meeting Thursday, according to the panel’s Web site.

James P. Lynch (City University of New York)

BJS nominee James P. Lynch was tapped for the post on Oct. 29. He is a criminal justice professor at John Jay College at the City University of New York. He also serves as the American Society of Criminology’s vice president-elect.

Lynch told panel members at a confirmation hearing last month that he would ensure that the statistical body was independent and free from political manipulation. He sat on a National Research Council panel that recommended last July that the BJS become independent of the Office of Justice Programs in the DOJ hierarchy to avoid political pressures. Read the National Research Council report, which was sponsored by the DOJ, here.

Read more about Lynch here and read information the committee received about him here.

If confirmed, he would replace acting director Michael Sinclair. Lynch would be the first presidentially appointed bureau director since Jeffrey Sedgwick resigned in 2008 to lead the Office of Justice Programs.

The panel is also scheduled to vote on DOJ nominees Dawn Johnsen (to head the Office of Legal Counsel), Mary L. Smith (to lead the Tax Division) and Christopher Schroeder (to head the Office of Legal Policy) during its business meeting tomorrow. Their nominations were held over from last week.

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

James P. Lynch, President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today that, if confirmed, he would ensure that the statistical body was independent and free from political manipulation.

James P. Lynch (City University of New York)

The bureau, which serves as a clearinghouse for crime and criminal justice statistics, came under scrutiny in 2005, when its director, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, was allegedly demoted after he complained about a decision by the Justice Department to play down statistics on the hostile police handling of black and Hispanic drivers. Read the New York Times article on the dismissal here.

Lynch sat on a National Research Council panel that recommended last July that the BJS become independent of the Office of Justice Programs in the DOJ hierarchy to avoid political pressures. Read the National Research Council report, which was sponsored by the DOJ, here.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel, said he didn’t support the recommendations. He said putting the BJS directly under the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General would not help keep politics out of the bureau.

“The more you get prominent, the more you get politicized,” Sessions said at the nomination hearing.

Lynch said at the hearing that he would make certain that the bureau can be trusted. “The way you do that is the same way you always do that: You provide accurate, timely and useful data,” the nominee said.

Obama tapped Lynch for the post on Oct. 29. He is a criminal justice professor at John Jay College at the City University of New York. He also serves as the American Society of Criminology’s vice president-elect. He has published numerous articles and books on criminal justice statistics.

If confirmed, he would replace acting director Michael Sinclair. Lynch would be the first presidentially appointed bureau director since Jeffrey Sedgwick resigned in 2008 to lead the Office of Justice Programs.

Read more about Lynch here and read information the committee received about him here.

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday for President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Justice Department Bureau of Justice Statistics, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee Web site.

James P. Lynch (City University of New York)

Obama tapped James P. Lynch for the post on October 29. He is a criminal justice professor at John Jay College at the City University of New York. He also serves as the American Society of Criminology vice president-elect. He has published numerous articles and books on criminal justice statistics.

Read more about Lynch here and read information the committee received about him here.

He would replace acting director Michael Sinclair. Lynch would be the first presidentially appointed bureau director since Jeffrey Sedgwick resigned in 2008 to lead the DOJ Office of Justice Programs

Monday, January 4th, 2010
Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

NPR’s Ari Shapiro interviewed newly installed Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs Laurie Robinson about the process of awarding grants in the Obama administration. He asked her whether —  as critics charged happened during the Bush administration — she could theoretically funnel money to her favorite charity.

“Do I have the ability by law? Yes, I do. Would I do that? No, I would not,” said Robinson.

Here’s a selection from the interview below, read or listen to the whole thing at NPR.

SHAPIRO: That raises another question which is I can see where the money has gone. Can I see, for example, whether those organizations were highly rated within peer-review process?

Ms. ROBINSON: Oh, we don’t make the peer review ratings public. And one of the reasons is - I used to teach - it would be like posting all of the grades of all of the students. You know, these were all professionals in their field. Then it might be - in fact, it would be, as somebody who used to write grants, pretty embarrassing for people. Oh gosh, you know, hey, Joe you have got a pretty lousy grant application.

SHAPIRO: That makes sense. But at the same time, if somebody undeserving then is getting government money through favoritism or some other avenue, the transparency seems to stop short of somebody on the outside being able to see that this person receiving the grant money actually was not highly rated within the peer-review process.

Ms. ROBINSON: We’ve gone back and forth on that, but I think there are limits to how open one can be about this without having some pretty unfavorable results for individuals.

[...]

SHAPIRO: What have you told to people who are below you in the hierarchy to ensure that your ethos of just because I can award a million dollars to my charity doesn’t mean that it’s ethical for me to do so, to be sure that, that ethos pervades all the way down to the ranks? What have you told people?

Ms. ROBINSON: I’ve really laid down the law about the importance of competing grants so that we ensure that people who are interested in applying for grants from the Department of Justice all have an equal chance.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

President Barack Obama will nominate Bea Hanson, an official at a non-profit organization to be the director of the Justice Department’s Office of Victims of Crime, the White House announced today.

Bea Hanson (Safe Horizon)

Hanson is currently the chief program officer for Safe Horizon, a non-profit crime victim assistance organization in New York. She would replace acting Director Joye Frost, who has led the office since George W. Bush appointee John W. Gillis resigned last winter. Read Hanson’s full bio here.

The Office of Victims of Crime is a branch of the Office of Justice Programs. The crime victims office helps fund state programs that assist crime victims.

Saturday, December 12th, 2009
Ron Weich, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Laurie Robinson at an installation ceremony Friday afternoon (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Ron Weich, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Laurie Robinson at an installation ceremony Friday afternoon (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Two Assistant Attorneys General whose friendship goes back over 20 years were formally installed to their respective positions in a joint ceremony Friday afternoon in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building.

Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Laurie Robinson served in the same role during the Clinton administration.

Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Ron Weich came to the Justice Department after working on Capitol Hill and leading the team that steered Attorney General Eric Holder through the confirmation process earlier this year.

Robinson oversees the research and development arm of the Justice Department, including assisting law enforcement agencies through DOJ grants.

Weich heads the Office of Legislative Affairs, which serves as the liaison between DOJ and the legislative branch.

Holder, along with Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, took part in the ceremony and praised Robinson and Weich.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with his former staffer, Ron Weich. (Photo by Ryan J. Reilly/Main Justice)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with his former staffer, Ron Weich. (Photo by Ryan J. Reilly/Main Justice)

“Laurie and Ron are not only valued colleagues, they are leaders in the department and throughout this administration,” said Holder. “Their credentials are impeccable; their qualifications are self-evident; and their professional reputations for integrity are well-deserved.”

Holder said Weich is his right arm when he goes to Capitol Hill. The Attorney General and said the two have worked well together ever since Holder got Weich to admit that Holder’s high school, which was a rival of Weich’s high school in New York City, was better than his. (Holder attended Stuyvesant High School; Weich went to the Bronx High School of Science, according to the BLT.)

He said he had a tough time convincing Robinson to return to the Justice Department, as she was happy with her position directing the Master’s Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Criminology, and “her relative freedom from her BlackBerry.” Eventually Holder, Ogden and Perrelli convinced Robinson to return to the Department.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Weich’s former boss, were also in attendance. Reid came in midway through the ceremony, having been held up on the Hill with the health care debate. (Weich had also worked for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and, for 10 months in 1989, then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched parties earlier this year.)

Sen. Harry Reid and Ron Weich (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Sen. Harry Reid and Ron Weich (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Sessions, a frequent critic of Holder, praised both Robinson and Weich, both of whom he has worked with before. Weich has a reputation for forthrightness and hard work, said Sessions.

“Since I have [Weich] captive here, I believe complicit in your duties will be the responsibility to work in a bi-partisan and cooperative basis,” said Sessions. “I know you will do that since you’ve worked on both sides of the aisle.” He also pointed to Weich’s role as the “gatekeeper” between the Justice Department and the legislative branch.

“This county would not be a better place with politicians making legal decisions,” said Sessions, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama for 12 years. “Trust me.”

When Robinson came up for confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions praised her previous work at the Department of Justice.

Laurie Robinson (photo by Ryan J. Reilly/Main Justice)

Laurie Robinson (photo by Ryan J. Reilly/Main Justice)

“I hate to repeat it in front of the Attorney General, but I said at the time that she may have been the finest appointment that President Clinton made in his time in office,” said Sessions. Holder, who had also been appointed by President Clinton as U.S. Attorney in D.C. and then as Deputy Attorney General, smiled and threw up his hands.

Sessions said Robinson, who controls programs that account for $2 billion in the DOJ funding bill for 2010 that is currently being considered by the Senate, has “a vast empire to guard.”

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

President Obama intends to tap a criminal justice professor as the next Bureau of Justice Statistics director, the White House announced today.

James P. Lynch (City University of New York)

James P. Lynch (City University of New York)

James P. Lynch is a criminal justice professor at John Jay College at the City University of New York. He also serves as the American Society of Criminology vice president-elect. He has published numerous articles and books on criminal justice statistics. Read more about him here.

He would replace acting director Michael Sinclair. Lynch would be the first presidentially appointed bureau director since Jeffrey Sedgwick resigned in 2008 to lead the Office of Justice Programs. The statistics bureau is part of the Justice Department.