Justice is Instituting Various Changes Under the Trump Administration
Published: April 19, 2017
With the Trump Administration rounding out its first three months, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made several changes according to new policies and priorities.
A few months ago, I wrote on what the nomination of Jeff Sessions would potentially mean for the Department of Justice, including the likelihood that drug cartels and human trafficking along with illegal immigration would be top targets for the former senator. Then came the set of executive orders from President Trump regarding crime and public safety, with numerous actions assigned to the Justice Department that include the creation of the Crime Reduction and Public Safety Task Force.
Fast forward a bit and we now see that the federal law enforcement agency has been busy at work carrying out the actions required under the executive orders and making changes in other areas such as forensic science and private prison contracts.
The Department of Justice Task Force on Crime and Reduction and Public Safety was created on February 27th and is made up of “crime reduction experts” within Justice, including the leaders of the FBI, ATF, DEA and the U.S. Marshals Service, according to Sessions in a speech in Arizona on April 11th. The Attorney General also stated that subcommittees under the task force are looking at various issues in order to target violet crimes by: developing violent crime reduction strategies; supporting prevention and re-entry efforts; updating charging and sentencing policies; reviewing asset forfeiture guidance; reducing illegal immigration and human trafficking; combatting hate crimes; and evaluating marijuana enforcement policy. Initial recommendations from the task force will be due to the Attorney General by July 27th, according to the memorandum sent to agency heads.
Jeff Sessions also cited a continued commitment in curbing illegal immigration and noted the large decreases in illegal border crossings within the past few months. Additional guidance has been given to the Justice Department to prioritize the federal prosecution of criminal immigration enforcement which includes the transportation and harboring of aliens as well upscaling the charge for unlawful entry into the U.S. from a misdemeanor to a felony. In order to enforce this, the agency has designated an Assistant U.S. Attorney as their respective districts’ Border Security Coordinator to manage criminal immigration enforcement activities.
Furthermore, Sessions stated that 25 additional immigration judges have already been positioned at detention centers on the border with 50 additional judges anticipated for this year and 75 more next year. He described the vetting for these positions as the same, but with a more streamlined and fast-paced hiring process.
Moreover, in an agency press release on March 30th, Attorney General Sessions announced an expanded and modernized program to deport criminal aliens housed in correctional facilities. The program will now include an expansion of active facilities under ICE, BOP and EOIR (Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review) to a total of 14 BOP and 6 BOP contract facilities. In an effort to speed up removal proceedings, Justice will commit to enhancing VTC capabilities and updating existing infrastructure at the correctional facilities and provide a new, finalized intake policy.
Protection and Support of Law Enforcement
Acknowledging that the reputation and morale of law enforcement has decreased and officers killed in the line of duty has increased – the Attorney General has issued a memorandum to all Justice Department programs and U.S. Attorneys to review Department activities dealing with law enforcement to ensure that it promotes the safety, morale and public support and its work. Specifically, the departments are to review “collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation.” This review marks a clear break from Obama-era policies.
In order to increase support to law enforcement in Indian Country, the Justice Department recently announced certain actions it will take to address public safety in those areas. It specifically commits the agency to “provide greater access to technology, information and necessary enforcement.” This includes the expansion of the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP), which will allow additional tribes to access national crime information databases.
In August 2016, under the Obama administration, an effort to phase out the use of private prisons managed by contractors was initiated. The concern was that these facilities were hard to manage and were more unsafe and unstable than federally owned centers. Sessions released a memo to BOP in late February to rescind this effort and continue business with private prison contractors in anticipation of a need for the facilities with the crackdown on crime and illegal immigration. While most inmates are housed in state prisons, this move comes as a huge advantage for major prison contractors such as The GEO Group, Inc., Corecivi, Inc. and the Management and Training Corporation. According to some of these prison contracts listed in the Federal Procurement Data System, the previous memorandum to phase out the contracts did not yet take a toll on those acquisitions already in place.
The National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) is a partnership established in 2013 between the Justice Department and independent scientists, judges and attorneys tasked with raising forensic science and practices. In another break from the previous administration, Jeff Sessions has stated that the Justice will not renew its commitment to the commission upon its expiration on April 23rd. Instead, he stated in a public announcement that a Subcommittee for Forensics will come up with a strategic plan on continuing the work of the NCFS. Specifically, a Senior Forensic Advisor will be assigned to work with forensic scientists and department heads and public comment will be solicited on how Justice should approach forensic science moving forward. Moreover, “the Department will conduct a needs assessment of forensic science laboratories that examines workload, backlog, personnel and equipment needs of public crime laboratories and the needs of academic and non-traditional forensic science practitioners, and issue a report to Congress.”
With the Department of Justice well under way in fulfilling the administration’s goals of crime reduction and illegal immigration constraints as well as increased support for law enforcement, contractors may find themselves well positioned for doing work at the agency. While president’s budget request suggests almost a 4% decrease in dollars, “targeted increases” have been promised in those areas prioritized by the administration and Attorney General. Already, contractors can see that a need and even expansion for private prisons has taken place. Moreover, the sharing of information, especially to remote areas such as Indian Country, will become a focus. Leaders in the Justice Department have repeatedly made it clear that they will do whatever it takes to minimize the violent crimes and drug cartels, curb unlawful immigration and promote the work of law enforcement.