OJJDP Cuts Oversight of Minorities in Justice System

The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is supposed to address “disproportionate minority contact” in the juvenile justice system. Caren Harp, the agency’s head in the Trump Administration, says states have spent too much money on the issue without getting results.

The number of juveniles behind bars in the U.S. has been on the decline, but the racial disparity has been dramatically worsening, with black youth several times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated. The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is supposed to address this by providing grants and training to local juvenile courts and law enforcement agencies. In return, states receiving federal dollars must gather data on inequality, explore why it’s happening and pursue solutions. With Caren Harp, an appointee of President Trump, in charge, the agency has taken a turn away from that mandate, reports The Marshall Project.  Harp is essentially dissolving OJJDP’s research arm, which had been the only federal team regularly compiling information on racial patterns in juvenile arrests and incarceration.

Starting next month, the agency will sharply cut back on its oversight of states’ attempts to reduce “disproportionate minority contact” with the criminal justice system by slashing the kinds of data local agencies must collect. It has rescinded training manuals that juvenile justice officials around the U.S. had been using to improve racial disparities, in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said was ending unnecessary regulation. “OJJDP is dismantling protections for kids of color. It’s that simple,” said Lisa Thurau of Strategies for Youth, a Massachusetts-based advocacy organization. Harp, a former prosecutor and professor at the evangelical Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., said that after many years of little progress on racial disparities, something had to change. “I can’t put 50 million more dollars into the exact same process,” she said. Harp said states have been spending too much time and money compiling data without improving real-life outcomes. She said research on racial disparities will continue at the adult-focused National Institute of Justice.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘I Don’t Have an Attorney General,’ Trump Complains

Escalating his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump says, “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just [the Russia probe].”

President Trump escalated his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, offering a scathing assessment of his performance, the Washington Post reports. “I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump said in an interview with Hill.TV. He said the former Alabama senator came off as “mixed up and confused” in his 2017 confirmation hearing. Trump has long been critical of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and said he regretted choosing him to lead the Justice Department. On Hill.TV, Trump offered broader criticism, including on Sessions’s handling of immigration issues, which has been cheered by Trump allies. “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just [the Russia probe],” Trump said.

Sessions has implemented some of the most aggressive and controversial steps to o crack down on illegal immigration — emphasizing “zero tolerance” for those who come to the country illegally, defending the policy of separating families, and issuing a ruling that limits those who qualify for asylum, among other things. In the interview, Trump suggested he appointed Sessions out of blind loyalty. “I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me,” Trump said. “He was the first senator that endorsed me. And he wanted to be attorney general, and I didn’t see it.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Who Could Succeed Sessions as Attorney General?

While resigned to President Trump’s firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections, senators suspect that perhaps only a sitting senator could win confirmation as Sessions’ successor, someone they could trust not to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

While resigned to President Trump’s firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections, senators suspect that perhaps only a sitting senator could win confirmation as Sessions’ successor, someone they could trust not to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. No one from their ranks seems to want the job, Politico reports. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he didn’t want the job. “No. I like being a senator. There are plenty of more qualified people than me. Bunches of them, thousands,” Graham said. Asked about Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, a fellow lawyer who was considered as FBI director, Graham said: “He’d be great if he wanted to do it.” No dice, said Cornyn. “We already have an attorney general,” he said. Mike Lee (R-UT), who some Republicans think might be interested, is “very happy” in his current role as senator, a spokesman said.

With few obvious potential applicants for a job that seems to come with built-in clashes with the president, some senators suggest Trump might have to nominate a Democrat. “Trump may very well want a change,” said retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “If I was the president, I’d even consider picking a Democrat if I thought I couldn’t get anybody else through.” The president is looking for a staunch defender like Eric Holder was to Barack Obama, said a Republican close to the White House. This source unsure any senator could meet Trump’s criteria of loyalty. Some Republican senators, like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have said it would be “really difficult” for them to support a successor should Trump fire Sessions. Asked whether he was confident he could confirm a Sessions successor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) defended the attorney general and said he hopes he sticks around.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Denies Calling Sessions ‘Mentally Retarded’

The president has been critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he denies that he called Sessions “mentally retarded” and made fun of his Southern heritage, as reported in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

President Trump denied that he called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and made fun of his Southern heritage. It was his  latest push back to Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” being published next Tuesday, Politico reports. “The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources, has me calling Jeff Sessions ‘mentally retarded’ and ‘a dumb southerner,’ the president wrote on Twitter. “I said NEITHER, never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff, and being a southerner is a GREAT thing. He made this up to divide!”

Trump and the White House have issued a litany of criticisms against Woodward’s latest tome. It depicts the president as increasingly erratic and his staff forced to resort to the type of tactics sometimes used to control children — like stealing problematic papers off of his desk — to thwart him. Woodward says his eyebrow-raising anecdotes are accurate. White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis have issued statements denying some of Woodward’s reporting. Trump’s tweet on Sessions was a rare bit of defense for his beleaguered attorney general, who has weathered intense criticism from Trump. This past weekend, the president vented about the Justice Department’s prosecution of two GOP congressmen, Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California, and how the timing of the announcement of those charges has prevented the GOP from finding others to run in their place.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Assails Sessions for Indicting GOP Congressmen

President Trump tweeted that indictments issued by Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department against two Republican congressmen placed the GOP in midterm election jeopardy. Actually, Republicans are expected to retain both seats.

President Trump tweeted that federal indictments against two Republican congressmen placed the GOP in midterm election jeopardy, the Associated Press reports. Trump again attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, suggesting that the Justice Department consider politics when making decisions: “Obama era investigations, of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……” Trump has suggested he views the Justice Department less as a law enforcement agency and more as a department that is supposed to do his personal and political bidding. Still, investigators are not supposed to take into account the political affiliations of the people they investigate.

Trump did not name the Republican congressmen, but he was apparently referring to the first two Republicans to endorse him in the GOP presidential primaries. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California was indicted on charges that included spending campaign funds for personal expenses and Rep. Chris Collins of New York on insider trading. Both have proclaimed their innocence. The Hunter investigation began in June 2016. The indictment into Collins lays out behavior from 2017. He was also under investigation by congressional ethics officials. Hunter has not exited his race, while Collins ended his re-election bid after his indictment. Both seats appear likely to remain in GOP hands.  Trump’s tweet drew a scolding from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who said, “The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the President was when the investigations began.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Lobbies Republican Senators Against Sessions

President vents his anger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “any senator who will listen.” Two senators are irritated at Sessions’ opposition to a sentencing reform bill they support.

The willingness of Republican senators to turn on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the result of a furious lobbying campaign from President Trump, who for the past 10 days has been venting his anger at Sessions to “any senator who will listen,” as one GOP Senate aide put it, Politico reports. The president, who has spent a year and a half fulminating against his attorney general, got traction on Capitol Hill thanks to the growing frustration of a handful of GOP senators with their former colleague – most importantly, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who have been irritated by Sessions’ opposition to a sentencing reform bill they support. Trump raised the prospect of firing Sessions in a phone conversation with Graham, who pressed the president to hold off until after the midterm elections.

Though Trump’s attorneys once cautioned him that dismissing Sessions would feed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s potential obstruction of justice, Trump’s legal team believes Mueller will make that case regardless of whether the president fires Sessions or leaves him in place. Graham told CBS that the Sessions-Trump relationship has deteriorated with little chance of a detente “anytime soon.” “The bottom line is this relationship is not working. It’s not good for the Department of Justice,” Graham said. If Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation was his original sin, Trump has come to resent him for other reasons, griping to aides and lawmakers that the attorney general doesn’t have the Ivy League pedigree the president prefers, that he can’t stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the president on television, in part because he “talks like he has marbles in his mouth.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump, Sessions Feud Again After Cohen Plea

The president says Attorney General Jeff Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department.” Session pushed back, saying DOJ will not be “improperly influenced by political considerations.” Both Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggest that Sessions may soon be out.

President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions fought in a public war of words Thursday , what the Washington Post calls “more fallout over the Justice Department securing a guilty plea this week from Trump’s former lawyer and a guilty verdict against his former campaign chairman.” It was the latest argument in the long-soured relationship between the two.Trump, speaking to Fox News Channel, said Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department,” and again faulted him for recusing himself from the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. “What kind of man is this?” the president asked.

Sessions pushed back after Trump spoke, saying the Justice Department will not be “improperly influenced by political considerations.” He said, “I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda — one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said it’s “very likely” that Trump will replace Sessions but said it would be unwise for him to do so before the November midterm elections.“ The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) said that he could find time to hold hearings on a new DOJ nominee this year after the Senate votes on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump, Sessions at Odds on Sentencing Policy

While the White House has embraced bipartisan legislation that would ease sentences and beef up prisoner re-entry and anti-recidivism programs, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that will just create new victims. He has thrown his weight behind legislation to toughen and lengthen prison sentences.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ disconnect with his boss, President Trump, is extending beyond their disagreement about the Russia probe to disagreeing on policy issues for which Sessions would normally speak for the administration — notably, prison reform, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The White House has embraced bipartisan legislation that would ease sentences and beef up prisoner re-entry and anti-recidivism programs. Sessions says that will just create new victims and has thrown his weight behind legislation to toughen and lengthen prison sentences. “We need Congress to fix the law so that we can keep violent career criminals off of our streets,” Sessions told law enforcement officials in Little Rock this month. “That shouldn’t be controversial.” He was referring to the Armed Career Criminal Act, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutionally vague in 2015, and which some Senate Republicans are rewriting.

The “Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act” would impose a mandatory 15-year sentence for people convicted of illegal firearms possession who have three previous state or federal convictions for “serious felonies” that carry prison sentences of at least 10 years. The bill would also expand the type of offenses that trigger the mandatory sentence to include certain non-violent crimes, like money laundering and high-dollar stock fraud, and some property crimes, like burglary. Sessions’ support for longer mandatory sentences puts him at odds with his boss. On Twitter, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) suggested Sessions’ hard line posture might hurt efforts to win White House support for a compromise prison and sentencing reform bill. The Justice Department opposed both the House and Senate proposals even though Trump openly backs the House measure. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said it ultimately won’t matter whether the bills have Sessions’ support or not. “Listen, (Sessions) doesn’t have a vote on this one,” Scott said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Awards Record $3.4B for Crime Victims

Most of the funds are being awarded to states under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance Formula Grant Program and will support local government and community-based victim services.

The U.S. Justice Department announced awards totaling more than $3.4 billion to fund thousands of local victim assistance programs and to help compensate victims in every state for crime-related losses. Distributed through two grant programs administered by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), the awards surpass every other single-year grant amount in the program’s 34-year history, DOJ said. The grants are supported by the Crime Victims Fund, a repository of federal criminal fines, fees, and special assessments. The fund does not include tax dollars.

More than $3.3 billion of the funds are being awarded to states under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance Formula Grant Program and will support local government and community-based victim services. In 2017, VOCA grants aided more than 6,700 local organizations. Over the last two years, VOCA-funded programs have reached more than 5.2 million victims, providing services ranging from emergency shelter and transportation to crisis counseling, long-term therapy, and civil legal assistance, DOJ said. Victim compensation programs operating in all 50 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia are get almost $129 million to reimburse victims and survivors for medical fees, lost income, dependent care, funeral expenses, and other costs. This compensation is often a lifeline to victims who face enormous financial setbacks on top of the emotional strife they experience. “Americans suffer from millions of violent acts every year, and only a fraction of victims get the help they so desperately need and deserve,” said OVC Director Darlene Hutchinson.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Backs Down on Justice Reinvestment

The Justice Department had announced a new direction for the justice reinvestment program that encourages states to cut prison populations. The proposal has been withdrawn after advocates of reinvestment sought support from key members of Congress.

The U.S. Justice Department has withdrawn a controversial proposal to change the direction of the justice reinvestment program (JRI) that federal policymakers have supported for the last 11 years.

JRI encourages states to reduce their prison populations and reinvest money that is saved in programs that help departing inmates reenter society.

As The Crime Report described last month, after unsuccessfully persuading Congress to kill federal involvement in JRI, the Justice Department issued a request for proposals on June 28 for a “Justice Accountability Initiative” that DOJ developed, apparently to replace the kind of work that had been done by JRI over the years.

Proposals by outside contractors to take part in the new program were due on July 30.

Now, the DOJ plan has disappeared from the department’s website.

In its place is an announcement that a new solicitation for proposals “will be reposted shortly. Applicants will be provided with ample time to submit complete, competitive applications. Please check back in this space for JRI grant opportunities.”

The Justice Department has not made a public comment on the reason for the withdrawal, but several sources said that advocates of justice reinvestment had approached members of Congress who support JRI, contending that DOJ was not proceeding in line with expectations of lawmakers.

After the White House sought to zero out federal support for the program, the appropriations subcommittees in each House that handle the Justice Department’ budget each voted to recommend spending more than $20 million on JRI in the spending year that begins on October 1.

Congress is yet to approve a final budget, but approval by appropriations panels in both houses for a particular program means that it can expect to be funded.

JRI has been managed in recent years by the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the Crime & Justice Institute.

Members of Congress were not immediately available to comment on the Justice Department’s latest move on justice reinvestment.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House subcommittee handling Justice Department appropriations, are among many legislators who have supported JRI.

Earlier this year, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Tom Marino (R-PA) led a group of 68 House members who declared their support for JRI.

In its proposal that was withdrawn, DOJ sought proposals for research that would focus on reducing recidivism of state prison inmates.

The DOJ document noted that Congress has said that it intends JRI to fund “activities related to criminal justice reform and recidivism reduction.”

The DOJ wanted to start pilot projects that would improve risk assessment tools that are now being tested to predict repeat criminality among those on probation.

It was not immediately clear whether the revised Justice Department plan for JRI would include such a new effort aimed at recidivism reduction.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org