Former Sessions Staffer Leading Office of Justice Programs

Jeff Sessions was confirmed on Feb. 8 to serve as Attorney General. But a large department that includes the federal juvenile justice portfolio has been led by one of his former Senate staffers since January 30.

Alan Hanson, who served as legislative director for Sessions from 2005 to 2008, is the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). Hanson is a career Beltway operator who most recently served as chief of staff, and then general counsel, for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

The OJP is the main conduit of federal funding for state and local law enforcement activities, and is also the agency that conducts most research on crime and criminal behavior.

One division of OJP is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which was brought into existence shortly after the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974 (JJDPA).

OJJDP funds mentoring programs, as well as efforts to find missing children and patrol the internet for child sexual exploitation. But its main job is to monitor state compliance with the federal standards for juvenile justice systems; adherence to those standards are rewarded with formula grants.

OJJDP has seen its appropriations drop significantly from the early years of the Obama administration, and for several years now, the House appropriators have zeroed out juvenile justice entirely. The office is also in the process of working on improving its compliance monitoring, lapses in which caused recent inquiries by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The agency recently published new rules that toughen the federal compliance standards, but one of President Trump’s flurry of executive orders has delayed effect of those rules, perhaps permanently.

Other OJP divisions include the office that oversees the national sex offender registry, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Office for Victims of Crime.

Hanson replaces Karol Mason, who headed OJP under President Obama. It remains to be seen whether Hanson will get a permanent nomination. If so, he’ll run point on juvenile justice policy for an attorney general who, in the 1990s, pushed legislation that would have given prosecutors wide discretion to transfer juveniles into the adult system.

Trump has nominated some leadership at the top of the Justice Department, though:

Rod Rosenstein, nominated for Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein is the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, appointed to that job by Bush in 2005.

Rachel Brand, nominated for Associate Attorney General. Brand was Assistant Attorney General for President George W. Bush, and Obama appointed her to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Steven Engel, nominated for Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. Engel was the deputy in this office in the later Bush years, and then joined the law firm Kirkland and Ellis.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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