The U.S. Justice Department under the Trump administration will continue to support programs “that keep people from entering the criminal justice system,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein promised Tuesday.
“Our goal is not to fill prisons,” Rosenstein told the concluding session of the 50-State Summit on Public Safety in Washington, D.C. “It is to prevent crime.”
Rosenstein’s statement was the closest he came to endorsing a major purpose of the two-day gathering, to advise states on ways to reduce incarceration without increasing crime.
The summit, sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, was attended by corrections administrators, police chiefs, health authorities and other officials from all 50 states.
Rosenstein’s comment was notable because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has echoed President Trump’s “tough on crime” rhetoric and, as a senator, opposed a bill that would reduce some mandatory prison sentences.
Rosenstein’s address covered a wide range of subjects, including the threat of terrorism and the opioid crisis, but mainly did not address the primary subjects of the summit.
However, he did acknowledge that many of the summit participants “work to find solutions to crime apart from prosecution and incarceration,” which Rosenstein called “a worthy goal.”
He pointed to programs begun by past administrations, such as Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Second Chance Act, as praiseworthy efforts to lower prison populations and assist prisoner reentry.
But he also echoed the hardline approach by Sessions and Trump to rising violence in many cities, and what he called a “troubling” 20 percent increase in the national murder rate over the last two years.
“If crime is falling in your jurisdiction, I offer my congratulations,” he said. “Keep right on doing what you are doing.
“But if crime is rising, now is the time to change to a strategy that works.”
The Justice Department will give money to as many as 25 states to hold similar conferences on their own crime and justice problems.
See also: “Public Safety Summit Draws Officials From 50 States” (TCR Nov. 14, 2017)
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.