The U.S. Department of Justice is a federal agency overseen by the U.S. Attorney General and charged with a multitude of duties and responsibilities. The mission statement of the U.S. Department of Justice states that the agency has the following goals: “To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”
The origins of the U.S. Department of Justice Department date back to the Judiciary Act of 1789, which created the position of U.S. Attorney General. Because the young nation was still in its early stages of development at that time, and had both a small population and limited government, the Attorney General role was originally a part-time position with limited responsibilities. Roughly a century later, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the 1870 Act to Establish the Department of Justice, which gave the Attorney General the responsibility of overseeing this agency. The newly created agency was charged with attending to the legal matters of the United States, inclusive of criminal matters and the protection of basic civil liberties.
Since its founding, the U.S. Department of Justice has continued to expand and evolve and is now responsible for numerous tasks, including of law enforcement, correctional administration, research, and policy development. To provide a few examples, the U.S. Department of Justice oversees the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and houses several federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The aforementioned law enforcement agencies perform numerous tasks, such as the investigation of crimes like arson, bank robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and terrorist attacks; the provision of security in federal courthouses and the protection of federal judges; the provision of security for witnesses in federal criminal cases; and the apprehension of federal fugitives.
As to the research and policy development responsibilities of the agency, the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice oversees several research-focused agencies, such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. These agencies fund and conduct research on topics pertinent to juvenile delinquency and criminal activity such as homicide, property crimes, violent crimes, school crime, and drug use. In addition, they serve in advisory roles by providing information to legislators about best practices for the prevention and reduction of crime.
The U.S. Department of Justice also has some offices that do not conduct original research but rather compile research on specific topics, provide advice on the development of national policies, and assist in the development of local, state, and national programs designed to reduce crime. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice oversees the Office on Violence Against Women, whose primary task is to provide accurate information on domestic and interpersonal violence and to assist local and state governments in their efforts to reduce domestic violence.
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives: http://www.atf.gov/
- Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.gov/
- Drug Enforcement Administration: http://www.justice.gov/dea/index.shtml
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: www.fbi.gov
- Federal Bureau of Prisons: www.bop.gov
- National Institute of Justice: http://www.nij.gov/
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov
- Office on Violence Against Women: www.ovw.usdoj.gov
- U.S. Department of Justice: www.usdoj.gov
- U.S. Marshals Service: www.usmarshals.gov