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Thank you. It’s a privilege to join my colleagues from the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. And it’s so inspiring to be here with all of you – the professionals and advocates who work so hard to support those who are affected by the nation’s overdose crisis. People like Officer Josh De La Rosa, whose work with the neighborhoods of his city is making such a tremendous difference.
This epidemic has taken a devastating toll on our society – in terms of lives lost and families left behind; in terms of the stigma and barriers that keep people from getting the help they need; and in terms of the gross inequities and injustices that this crisis continues to expose. It has also laid bare another major challenge that the Office of Justice Programs is working to meet: the problems created or exacerbated by our nation’s over-reliance on arrest and incarceration as a response to substance use and mental health disorders.
In too many instances, our criminal justice system has been too quick to punish those who could benefit from treatment. This is why my office is working closely with community and health partners, and with professionals along the justice continuum, to get those who need and want treatment the help they deserve. In particular, I want to call out critical new support for diversion strategies for those who come into contact with the front end of the justice system.
For example, we’re supporting co-responder models, pairing behavioral health specialists with law enforcement, which has so many benefits. It provides a more appropriate response to crisis, augments police capacity, connects people to services and ultimately builds trust in communities. We’re also funding programs that provide peer support and offer trauma-informed and culturally responsive services.
And for those in prisons and jails, we are committed to increasing access to treatment and thus reducing the chances of overdose while incarcerated or after release. Programs funded by our Bureau of Justice Assistance support and encourage increasing access to evidence-based options like medications for opioid use disorder, both in correctional facilities and continuing in the community, which we know can help reduce recidivism and support individuals on the road to recovery.
I will add that we want our programs and policies to be informed by those with lived experience. We have two stellar Second Chance fellows on board who bring a first-hand perspective to our reentry work. Similarly, we hope to bring a Peer Recovery Specialist fellow on board to inform our behavioral health portfolio in the coming year.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, but we share a north star, and that is the just and humane treatment of those who struggle with substance use and mental health disorders. Getting treatment to people at the right time and in the right setting can save lives and strengthen communities.
Tonight’s speakers and many of you in this room provide such inspiration. You are the best messengers for a public health approach, proof that recovery is possible and that the right support can change lives. We stand with you at the Office of Justice Programs, and thank you for your commitment to this important cause.