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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Committee on Community Corrections Meeting
December 2, 2009
Washington, DC

       Good morning everyone. It's nice to see everyone. I'm Laurie Robinson, the Assistant Attorney General here at the Office of Justice Programs.

       Before I get into my remarks, I'd like to introduce a couple of people. Many of you know Mary Lou Leary - OJP's Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and my friend and partner. Like me, Mary Lou has a deep interest in community corrections issues, and she's been helping to lead OJP's efforts in the corrections arena. I'd also like to introduce Marlene Beckman. Marlene is a long-time friend and associate. She worked with me when I was Assistant Attorney General in the 90s, then she spent a number of years in our National Institute of Justice, and now she's back as my Senior Policy Advisor. Marlene has kept community corrections high on OJP's agenda over the years, and she continues to advise me on corrections and reentry issues now that she's returned to the front office.

       The National Committee on Community Corrections is a group that I've been part of almost from the beginning - going back to the 80s when Don Santarelli helped to get it started - back before community corrections was cool. I know the important role that this group has played in advancing pre-trial and post-detention release issues, and in getting those issues on the public radar. And let me just give a nod to Don - whom I'll introduce in a few minutes - for being a wonderful spokesman for community corrections issues all this time.

       I know some of you have been part of this group for a long time as well. So hopefully it's as gratifying for you as it is to me that the issues we've been wrestling with for so many years are finally getting the attention they deserve.

       That's good news. Unfortunately, we don't have time to sit around and celebrate, because now that we have the exposure, we really have our work cut out for us, thanks to a reentry problem that's grown exponentially.

       Now let me just say that reentry is not the only challenge that community corrections professionals are facing. But it is one of the biggest challenges facing the criminal justice system, and community corrections is front and center as one of the solutions to the problem. Our goal now should be to take the principles that community corrections has taught us to scale - to really make them a central part of our criminal justice planning.

       This group can - and should - play a guiding role - and we at OJP should be partners in that effort. In September, we awarded more than $28 million under the Second Chance Act. These grants will do several things - provide mentoring, literacy classes, job training, education, and mental health counseling for adult and juvenile offenders. We also funded the creation of a National Reentry Resource Center, which is now up and running and is being managed by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The Resource Center will provide up-to-date information about promising practices and research in reentry, and it will make training and technical assistance available to states, localities, and tribes to help them develop evidence-based reentry programs. Next year, the President has asked for a total of $100 million under the Second Chance Act. And we anticipate that $10 million of that will go to research and evaluation. This is just part of our contribution to advancing reentry programs.

       An area that I think we should really be focusing on is improving the community context of reentry. I know Don has been vocal about the need for stronger collaborations between community groups and community corrections agencies. And I agree - these partnerships are key. Returning offenders need the guidance of those who are out there, living and working in the community.

       But it's also a matter of smarter allocation of resources. You'll hear in a little while from Mike Thompson from the Council of State Governments about an effort they're leading - and many of you know about - called Justice Reinvestment. I don't want to steal your thunder, Mike, but I think this is really a promising approach for dealing with the community-based aspect of criminality.

       One of the things we know about crime is that it tends to concentrate in just a few areas. We know this through research, including analysis by CSG that shows that a disproportionate amount of corrections money is spent on offenders from a small number of communities. On top of that, a large amount of other public dollars - for things like food stamps, unemployment, and family assistance - goes to those same neighborhoods.

       So reentry is so challenging, not just because the sheer number of returning offenders is so high, but because the neighborhoods and communities that should be our safety and support networks are struggling. We need to make sure that, not only are we able to meet the individual-level needs of offenders, but that the communities they go back to are able to facilitate positive change. That's what Justice Reinvestment is all about - helping states analyze their offender population and determine what resources are needed in the communities that those offenders come from and return to. We've seen some encouraging things from this project, and I'm sure Mike will talk about those.

       I know that groups like the Center for Community Corrections and the International Community Corrections Association have led the way in discussions about cost-effectiveness in corrections. Now we've gotten that issue on the public's agenda. We need to build on that momentum by continuing to educate policymakers, legislators, and the public about the need for wiser investments in criminal and juvenile justice. We don't want this issue to slip to the back burner when the economy turns around and attention shifts away from high prison costs.

       So we're looking forward to continuing our work with Don and the NCCC - and all of you. Now let me introduce the committee chair. I've already mentioned him.

       I've had the great pleasure - and privilege - of knowing and working with Don Santarelli for many years now. We're connected both by our interest in community corrections and by our resums. Don was Administrator of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which - for the younger ones among us - was the predecessor to OJP back in the 60s and 70s. He was also the Associate Deputy Attorney General. So he really has been part of the history of federal support of state and local criminal justice.

       Don also served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Constitutional Rights when it was chaired by Senator Ervin. And he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney here in the District back in the late 60s - a "repentant prosecutor," as he calls himself. Benjamin Baer, who was Chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission at the time, approached Don in the late 80s and asked him to chair a national committee on community corrections, and he's headed it ever since - and done a remarkable job.

       So let me turn it over to him for a few words.

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