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

At the National Association of Drug Court Professional
Annual Conference
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Boston, MA

       Thank you, Chief Justice Price. I'm delighted to be here. I'm so pleased to be sharing the stage with a state supreme court chief justice on one side and the Attorney General of the United States on the other. What better sign that drug courts have truly come into their own?

       I'll tell you - it's always a thrill for me to join West and NADCP. The last time I was with you was exactly 10 years ago - shortly after I left my first stint as Assistant Attorney General back in 2000. It's great to be back.

       My attachment to drug courts is very personal. As Assistant Attorney General back in the 90s, I helped to set up the federal drug court office at OJP, and I've visited more than a dozen drug court graduations around the country over the years - I've lost count. As you know, it's an incredibly powerful experience to witness the impact of drug courts - not only on the participants, but on their families and friends - and on the court participants and on their communities.

       The work you all do is so very important - I can't emphasize that enough. And that's not just a subjective statement from one observer. As you well know, research from the National Institute of Justice and meta-analyses from the Campbell Collaboration confirm that drug courts work, and they work well! They lower recidivism rates, they reduce drug use, they bring down costs, and they make our communities safer.

       And the impact that drug courts have made goes far beyond the people involved - they've actually changed the way we think about the justice system and its potential for influencing lives. Drug courts focus - as you know - on outcomes and changing behavior, not just processing cases, and I think we can now see this philosophy - because of your work - permeating broader policy discussions about the system's role.

       And clearly, drug courts have introduced a new way of doing business. Now we have mental health courts, reentry courts, domestic violence courts, veterans courts, DUI courts, teen courts - and the list goes on.

       I remember a former public defender I knew back in the 80s who skeptically referred to the traditional system as a dispenser of "supermarket justice," where you "move 'em in and move 'em out," with all the focus on moving product - and little concern for results, or, quite frankly, the people involved.

       I think drug courts have helped to change "supermarket justice" in our country, and to restore a greater sense of mission - even integrity - to the system. They are helping to counter the pessimism that, for too long, has dominated the criminal and juvenile justice fields. They've shown that a justice-based approach can, in fact, change lives.

       Having been part of the drug court movement on the federal level from the Janet Reno days, I'm proud to be part of an Administration now that is so strongly committed to drug court principles - problem-solving, collaboration across disciplines, community engagement, accountability, and results. The White House National Drug Control Strategy makes that commitment clear.

       As you read through that strategy - and I know you'll hear from my good friend Director Gil Kerlikowske on Saturday - you can see such a strong focus on addressing the underlying substance abuse disorders of offenders. Incarceration is often the right response to drug offenses - certainly when they involve violence - but there are many offenders for whom nothing could be worse. We pay a high price - both figuratively and literally - by not treating the causes.

       Also, I'm proud of the role that OJP has played - and continues to play - in supporting drug courts - through hundreds of grants, through training and technical assistance, through a drug court resource center, through a juvenile drug court program, and through intensive research and evaluation.

       All of these efforts are central to our overall mission of improving the justice system's effectiveness, and they will continue to be integral to our work at OJP.

       But I want to be very clear that our role has been one of support, not one of creation and innovation. That's been your contribution. You are the heart and soul of this work. You kindled the fire. I like to think that those of us in Washington have played an important role in helping you, but I know full well that you are the lifeblood of this movement.

       Now, I could talk all day about drug courts because I love them - I used to take all my students at Penn down to see them every year and loved to see their eyes growing wide as they sat in Lou Presenza's courtroom. But I do want to give my boss here a chance to weigh in.

       I think you all know what a busy man Eric Holder is. He's had a few things on his plate! With all the demands on his time, he has to be pretty selective about where he speaks. It's pretty significant, I think, when he accepts an invitation to talk. It either means he really owes somebody a favor, or he really wants to be there. I'm not aware of any chit being called in here, but what I can tell you is that there's no stronger advocate for drug courts in the federal government than our Attorney General.

        Eric Holder is all about being smart on crime, and he knows that drug courts are one of the smartest approaches going. He's described them as one solution to the devastating effects of drugs on communities. And he's backed everything my agency has done to support drug court activities.

       This is a man who understands from experience in the field - as both a prosecutor and a local judge - the power of the court to turn around lives. Eric Holder is someone who knows just what drug courts can do.

       It's my honor to introduce him to you today - the Attorney General of the United States.

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