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The White House
For Immediate Release

Director Kerlikowske Remarks to National Sheriffs Association on Criminal Justice Reform

As Prepared

Thank you [NSA President] Paul (Fitzgerald) for that kind introduction. I want to also take a moment to thank Sheriff Aaron Kennard for inviting me today. And I’m pleased to see Stacia Hylton here from the United States Marshals Service.

Let me begin by stating something that all of you as public safety officials are well aware: Drug use and its consequences harm every sector of our society. It tears families apart, strains our healthcare system, drives crime, and burdens our criminal justice system. And research confirms what you witness each day in your communities.

For the first time, drug-induced deaths are the leading cause of accidental death in America. The drug problem is also a significant obstacle to our economic recovery. A recent study by the Department of Justice shows that drug use costs our society approximately $193 billion dollars a year. Fifty-six billion of those dollars can be traced directly to costs associated solely with the criminal justice system.

This should come as no surprise to any of us.

There are more than 7 million people in the United States under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Of these, more than two million are behind bars. The good news is that last year, the U.S. prison population fell for the first time in nearly four decades. Still, for states and localities across the country, the costs of managing the criminal justice population have grown significantly. Between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from 12 billion to more than 50 billion dollars per year.

These figures are staggering. Not only because of the sheer number of people in prison or under criminal justice supervision, but because of the impact drugs and substance use disorders have on crime.

Data show that over half of state and Federal inmates used drugs during the month preceding the offense for which they were sentenced. Nearly a third of state prisoners and a quarter of Federal prisoners used drugs at the time of the offense.

These facts underscore the need to take a different approach to drug policy in America – one that sees drug addiction as a disease, and a criminal justice system that can be improved to help break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest.

The Obama Administration believes our approach to drug policy should be guided by three facts: Addiction is a disease and it can be treated; people can recover; and, simply put, we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem. Innovative new interventions are needed to fairly and effectively address substance abuse and drug-related crime.

By recognizing drug addiction as a chronic and progressive disease, we can prevent and treat the underlying substance use disorder, reduce drug-related crime and recidivism, and help people overcome institutional barriers to recovery. It makes more sense to support programs and interventions that treat underlying substance abuse problems before the condition becomes chronic than to just keep filling our prisons and jails with drug offenders.

Too many people with substance use disorders are cycling through the criminal justice system with dismal results. To get on the right track, the Obama Administration is embarked on an unprecedented effort to reform our criminal justice system and restore balance to the way we reduce drug use in America.

The President’s approach is guided by action, not words.

This last fiscal year, the Federal Drug Control Budget devoted $10.4 billion dollars to drug prevention and treatment programs, compared to just over $9 billion dollars on domestic law enforcement.

To improve fairness and confidence in our system while protecting public safety, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. This important and long-overdue criminal justice reform dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. And more recently, we advocated for (and the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved) the retroactive application of these sentencing guidelines, which became effective on November 1 of last year.

To build on this reform, I held a series of criminal justice policy roundtables across the country last fall, where I met with local African American leaders to specifically discuss drug policies and how they affect the African American community.

Whether I was in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Philadelphia or Chicago, everyone around the table agreed that reducing drug use and its consequences can only occur with a balanced approach of public health and public safety. Access to treatment inside the walls and out in the communities is necessary.

As sheriffs, I encourage you to sit down with your local community leaders and discuss these issues. It was very informative and we must learn to work together.

This Administration continues to strongly support drug courts, which place non-violent drug offenders into treatment and provide them with supportive services instead of prison, and we are encouraged by other promising alternatives to incarceration. There are now over 2,600 drug courts across the Nation, diverting about 120,000 people a year into treatment instead of prison. Meanwhile, jurisdictions are also piloting innovative community supervision programs that employ swift but certain sanctions for drug offenders on probation or parole.

We are also providing support for the Second Chance Act, which provides resources for common-sense, evidence-based approaches to reducing crime. Specifically, this Act provides funding for programs that improve coordination of reentry services and policies at the state, tribal, and local levels. The programs that are funded include demonstration grants, reentry courts, family-centered programs, substance abuse treatment, employment, mentoring, and other services necessary to improve the transition from prison and jail to communities, and to reduce recidivism. In FY 2012, the Second Chance Act program received $58 million dollars in funding, and the Department of Justice will be administering several types of reentry grants this year.

I am sure some of you are involved with reentry programs in your own jurisdictions and can attest to the fact that successful, evidence-based reentry initiatives provide a significant opportunity to reduce recidivism, save money, and make communities safer.

Jail is a critical access point for incarcerated individuals. It quite possibly is the first opportunity for an individual to have access to health benefits and services. Jails can work with their local communities to facilitate a smooth transition back into society, by working with their local housing, employment and health agencies. For example, veterans are eligible for benefits through the Veterans Administration upon leaving incarceration, but we know many never receive these benefits.

We are also working to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter society through the Federal Interagency Reentry Council. This cabinet-level council, led by the Attorney General, brings key Federal agencies together to remove actual Federal barriers to reentry and clarify perceived Federal barriers, including obstacles to employment, housing, and access to Federal benefits.

Removing these barriers is vital, because of the more than two million individuals behind bars, 95 percent will be released back into their communities. We are making strides at the Federal level, and states are also taking constructive steps through sentencing reform and other criminal justice policy measures. State legislative packages vary in scope and scale, many states have enacted evidence-based policies to address the factors that can drive increased corrections costs, crime, and recidivism. This will allow for more alternatives to incarceration with community-based substance abuse treatment and services, community supervision, and treatment in prison.

I realize these are tough economic times, and that the reforms occurring at the state level, though encouraging, will affect the communities within your jurisdictions. Still, despite these challenging budgetary times, it is essential that we make these types of reforms and these investments in substance abuse treatment and other services. I encourage all of you to learn more about effective strategies and programs for substance-abusing offenders and, if you haven’t done so already, to consider becoming advocates for innovative approaches in your communities.

It is important for our profession to take the time to understand addiction and how drugs affect behavior. We know drug use changes people and science tells us these changes affect the brain in ways that are long lasting. Understanding this concept not only helps break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration and rearrest but also improve the safety of law enforcement professionals.

Knowing this can help our profession on many fronts. Later today, Redonna Chandler from the National Institute on Drug Abuse will address this issue at your drug enforcement committee. I am hopeful this will be an ongoing discussion with law enforcement, and that we can work with the National Sheriffs Association to provide information on this important subject to its members.

As we work together to enact a comprehensive and balanced approach to drug policy, we must also be aware of emerging threats. One of those we are focusing on is the emerging threat of drugged driving.

Last year, we saw the latest results from the National Highway and Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) – the most important nationwide census regarding fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. The findings were disturbing. According to FARS, of all those tested and whose drug test results were known, one in three drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 tested positive for drugs.

One way to help detect drugged driving is through state based Drug Recognition Programs, of which I’m sure you are aware. We are also working on developing an online version of the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement program, or ARIDE, to be ready in August of this year. This training course improves an officer’s ability to recognize signs and symptoms of drugs other than alcohol in drivers. Our role as policy makers is to share what we know about these threats with you and give you the tools you need to address them. That is why we are working to increase training for law enforcement officers around the country so they can recognize the signs of drugged driving.

We are also supportive of state efforts to pass per se legislation to make it easier to hold accountable individuals who drive after using drugs. Per se laws are currently being considered in state legislatures across the country and we encourage you to find out more about how per se legislation can hold drugged drivers accountable and keep our roads safer.

We’re also partnering with major organizations like MADD to raise public awareness of the problem. After all, preventing drugged driving before it ever takes place is the best approach of all.

Let me conclude by thanking you for your dedication to protecting your communities, and by offering some perspective. The smart and innovative law-enforcement efforts you are engaged in are a vital component of maintaining public safety and bringing justice to those who victimize our communities. In large part because of your work, the drug problem in America today is substantially smaller than it once was. Rates of drug use have dropped by roughly one-third over the past thirty years. More recently, cocaine use has dropped by 40 percent, and meth use in America has been cut by half.

With your continued support and commitment, we will continue to make ours a healthier, safer Nation. Thank you.