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

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America
19th Annual National Leadership Forum
National Harbor, MD
February 11, 2009

Thank you, Jane. It's wonderful to be here again with CADCA. I remember well the work we did together when I was with the Clinton Administration back in the 90s.

I'm here to tell you that there is a new era at the U.S. Department of Justice. It's just a week and a day ago that I attended the swearing in of new Attorney General Eric Holder, whose greetings I bring you. And as I watched the ceremony in what I still think of as Janet Reno's conference room - with so many career Department of Justice employees standing there (some of them in tears, I have to tell you) - he talked about working for a Department of Justice that is "rooted in fairness and in a desire to ensure a more just America."

I've known Eric Holder for many years, and I think all of you know that he has had a long and distinguished career as a public servant. He values tremendously the kind of work you do on the front lines in your community coalitions - the kind that he worked with in his years as U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, and in the years before that as a local judge sitting on the D.C. Superior Court.

And, of course, we should remember that in our top boss - the President of the United States - we have someone who certainly understands the central role that community coalitions can play in preventing crime and combating drugs. Who knows that better than a community organizer?! You certainly have a kindred spirit in the White House.

Before going further, I want to share with you some of the goals I specifically have for the Office of Justice Programs in the (probably) brief time I plan to be here:

First, I want to ensure a lively and active dialogue and partnership with groups in the field - in full listening mode - to further the work we did during the transition.

Second, I want to focus on data-driven, smart on crime approaches to addressing crime to make sure that we are funding programs that are effective and that work (as my colleague here from NIDA certainly can attest to the need for).

Finally, I want to ensure a collaborative working relationship between the bureaus at OJP and with other parts of the Department, as well as with other agencies outside of Justice.

In the time that I have remaining, I want to tell you a little bit about what OJP is doing in a few areas.

I know many of you work closely with our Weed and Seed sites across the country. CADCA's mission and the goals of Weed and Seed are very much in sync. Our Community Capacity Development Office has an agreement with CADCA to provide training, technical assistance, and information resources to Weed and Seed sites. This helps ensure that Weed and Seed steering committee members are trained in drug abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies. It's a relationship that works, and we're grateful for your expertise.

Weed and Seed sites can also get immediate help through CADCA's Technical Assistance Request System. This connects sites to an array of services, including site-based assistance, phone counseling, Webinars, and e-publications. This partnership has really worked. It's been extraordinarily valuable to Weed and Seed sites across the country.

There are also other effective ways to address the link between drugs and crime. For example, I'm very impressed with the growth of drug courts over the past two decades, going back to 1989. Drug courts couple the coercive power of the courts with treatment, and they are extremely effective, in terms of both treatment success and costs. We know this from research.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2005 found that drug court programs substantially reduce crime by lowering re-arrest and conviction rates among drug court graduates well after completion. And a meta-analysis by the Campbell Collaboration two years ago replicated the findings, which can be boiled down to this - drug court graduates commit less crime and use drugs less. We also know that drug courts can be very cost-effective compared to incarceration.

There are now more than 2,100 drug courts in operation right now in the United States, which is remarkable when you consider that the first drug court began in 1989, and there were fewer than 500 just a decade ago. I've visited over 15 drug courts around the country and attended probably a dozen drug court graduations - and it's hard not to be moved - almost to tears - by what you see and hear at these ceremonies!

But drug courts are still an undertapped resource. We estimate that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 drug court clients being served. That's only a fraction of the 1.5 million nonviolent drug offenders who are arrested and charged with a crime every year in this country. A question we are trying to answer is, how do we bring these successful initiatives to scale? This is a challenge, as I've seen in Philadelphia.

During the campaign last fall, President Obama strongly underscored his support of drug courts, and he expressed his commitment to expanding them. This goes back to his days as a community organizer and his appreciation for the value of intervention and treatment versus strict enforcement alone.

This approach is particularly useful in dealing with drug-abusing youth. As of the end of 2008, there were 457 juvenile drug courts in the United States. We'd like to see that number continue to rise.

Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is working with the Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on a Juvenile Drug Court Initiative. That's a four-year demonstration project in three sites, and its goal is to identify substance-abusing juvenile offenders and deliver services through a coalition of providers. This spring, we'll post a competitive solicitation to fund three additional drug courts.

We also share CADCA's concern about the rise in the abuse of prescription drugs, especially among young people. In his days in the Senate, the Vice President was an outspoken advocate of measures to prevent prescription drug abuse. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance manages a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that helps state regulatory and law enforcement agencies analyze and monitor the movement of controlled substances. An evaluation of these programs suggests that the rate of abuse of prescription drugs is significantly lower in areas where monitoring programs exist.

Finally, I just want to mention one other effort that is proving to be successful in getting community groups and law enforcement together. It's called the Drug Market Intervention Initiative. It's modeled on a program that was pioneered down in High Point, North Carolina.

The gist of it is that low-level drug dealers are confronted by law enforcement officers, who tell them: "We know what you're up to. You can choose to straighten up, and if you do, we've got resources to help you - mentoring, counseling, job training. Or you can continue down the current path, in which case we've got enough evidence to prosecute you, which could result in a long prison sentence."

It's worked wonders in High Point. Violent crime has dropped 57 percent in the target area over the last four years. It's also created a positive relationship between law enforcement and residents.

We're now providing training on this approach to other locations throughout the country. We think it has great potential, because it isn't just about locking people away, but about breaking the cycle of drugs and crime and giving people, especially young people, a chance to remedy their mistakes.

So these are some of our current efforts. I'm excited because I've always been a firm believer that community coalitions have a central role to play in fighting drugs and crime. President Obama and Attorney General Holder believe that as well, and they've walked the walk. They haven't just talked the talk.

I look forward to working with you as the new Administration maps out a strategy to stem the tide of drugs in our neighborhoods. And I want to thank you for your hard work and your dedication.

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