Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at Jails and Justice Support Center Event

Thank you so much, Karhlton.

I’m very pleased to join you today.

I want to thank Sheriff Quiroz and everyone at the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office for serving as our hosts for this event today, and for the work they do every day to protect the safety and civil rights of those in their care and in their community.

My thanks as well, to you, Karhlton, and to my colleagues in our Office of Justice Programs — Brent Cohen, Ruby Qazilbash, and the outstanding team in our Bureau of Justice Assistance — and to Holly Busby, Stephen Amos, and our friends at the National Institute of Corrections for their efforts in supporting the launch of the Jails and Justice Resource Center, a vital resource for our nation’s jails.

And thank you to all our partners in this effort — the National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, CNA, the American Jail Association, the National Association of Counties, and Rulo Strategies.

We are grateful for your leadership and support on behalf of the more than 3,000 jails across this country.

We are here today because you all share a common goal with the Justice Department: safe jails that honor the dignity, humanity, and constitutional rights of everyone — incarcerated people, staff, and visitors alike.

And we are here to deliver on a commitment we made to you and the countless other dedicated professionals who manage and operate our nation’s jails.

The idea for the Jails and Justice Support Center came from the field, from you.

You told us there was a need for technical assistance and support, for resources to help you do your jobs safely and effectively, and for access to promising practices as you confront new or recurring challenges in your work.

We know you play an important role in protecting your communities.

Your jobs are demanding, they can be dangerous, and yet the critical work you do often escapes notice.

I don’t have to tell anyone here that managing jails is a challenging endeavor.

People often enter jails with a range of untreated needs — trauma, substance use disorders, mental and behavioral health challenges — and society has for too long put a lot of these issues at the feet of jail administrators without adequate support or investments in community-based treatment and solutions.

All of that makes your jobs harder and, sometimes, more dangerous.

Jails have high rates of turnover of people in custody: in the 12 months ending in June 2022, jails reported some 7.

3 million admissions, and most of those were out again within weeks, days, or even hours.

This high turnover exacerbates challenges from higher rates of infectious diseases, chronic health conditions, and behavioral health disorders among the jail population as compared to national averages, especially because people often leave jail too soon to be treated and may then carry those issues right back into their communities.

In addition, the public safety concerns that bring individuals into contact with the system — the cycles of trauma and violence that play out in neighborhoods and lead to arrests — frequently follow them into jail, heightening both individuals’ treatment needs and jail-management challenges.

Deaths in custody are of particular concern as well.

In 2019 — the last year for which we have complete data — 1,200 deaths were reported in local jails, an 11% increase over the previous two decades.

Any death in custody is a tragedy, regardless of the cause and regardless of the individual’s conviction status.

But it is worth noting that more than three-quarters of those who died in jail custody — whether by illness, suicide, or overdose — had not been convicted of a crime.

There are so many of you, so many sheriffs, jail administrators, and jail staff across our country who regard the safety and health of those in your charge as a sacred trust.

The delivery of proper medical and behavioral health care, the mitigation of violence, the intolerance of excessive force — these are all duties and principles you seek in earnest to fulfill.

We know that many jails have made great strides in how they screen, assess, treat, and care for people in their charge, yet many also recognize there are opportunities for improvement, both within facilities and at the community or systemic levels.

Those are some of the reasons I am so excited that our Bureau of Justice Assistance, working in close partnership with our National Institute of Corrections, has awarded almost $4 million to stand up the Jails and Justice Support Center.

The Center will serve as a hub for resources and technical assistance to help jails maintain safe and humane environments for people who are detained, for their visitors, and for those who work inside those facilities.

It will also provide jail staff with specialized trainings, core competency development, expert assessments, and consultation on issues related to jail administration.

We know that jail leaders and staff are eager for information that can steer them to best practices, relevant resources, and even hands-on technical assistance support from experienced professionals in the field.

The Jails and Justice Support Center is designed to provide precisely that.

It will be the first of its kind to consolidate resources from across the Justice Department and from recognized leaders like our partners in this effort.

CNA, located right here in Arlington, is managing this groundbreaking initiative for us, and we are leaning on the expertise of our partners from the National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, the American Jail Association, the National Association of Counties, and Rulo Strategies — each of whom has committed their wisdom and experience to ensuring the success of this important effort.

The Center will be an accessible resource equipped to help jail professionals address both longstanding challenges and new and urgent problems.

We are excited to make it available to jail administrators across the country as they work to create safe and humane conditions.

And I am very pleased to announce that, effective today, the Jails and Justice Support Center is open for business.

You will find a core topic library with resources, no-cost validated instruments, and other resources on issues relevant to your work, like comprehensive screening and assessments for medical and behavioral health challenges.

Selected sites will also be able to access extended technical assistance over a six-to-nine-month period, during which they will receive a comprehensive assessment and customized plan including policy and program assessments, peer learning opportunities, specialized training, assistance in conducting after-action reviews, strategic planning, and more.

We look forward to this opportunity for greater engagement with jail professionals across America.

We believe our work together will widen the doors to progress in the corrections field, and we are hopeful that it will continue the work that many of you have started to help ensure that safety and dignity are core correctional principles.

Thank you all for joining us today.

I’m grateful for all you do, here in Arlington and across the country, to effectively manage our jails and keep our communities safe.

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