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

Association of State Correctional Administrators
Executive Committee Meeting
January 23, 2010
Washington, DC

       It's great to be back among friends. I remember working with George Camp, A.T. Wall, Gary Maynard, Jeff Beard, Camille Morris, Harold Clark, and others when I was with the Office of Justice Programs in the 90s.

       I didn't plan to return to OJP. One reason I did was because of the important and difficult work that all of you do. I remember the work we did on corrections projects with the National Institute of Corrections during those years, and I want to re-establish that relationship.

       It's good to be here with ASCA because you've played such a critical role in ensuring that corrections practices are informed by data and that outcome measures are applied to policies. One of the areas I know you're most concerned about is the impact of the economic downturn on state budgets.

       Through our Recovery Act funding, we're trying to do our part to keep funds going your way. We're also trying to help states and corrections agencies manage in the face of budget shortfalls.

       One of our big pushes is Justice Reinvestment. Some of you may be involved in this effort in your own state. Basically, Justice Reinvestment is designed to help states figure out how to change corrections policies in a way that lowers costs and reinvest those savings without sacrificing public safety. If there's a silver lining on this economic cloud, I think it's the fact that people are paying attention to the idea that prisons should exist for people who really need to be there - and there are many cases where, frankly, they don't need to be there.

       Justice Reinvestment has gotten bipartisan congressional support. I'll be joining members of Congress at the National Summit on Justice Reinvestment on Wednesday. We'll be talking about approaches that are working in some of the states. For example, Texas redirected millions of dollars from additional prison space to substance abuse, mental health, and intermediate sanctions programs - to great success.

       As you know, we're looking at sentencing and corrections reform on the federal level. The Attorney General has established a Sentencing and Corrections Working Group to take a fresh look at federal sentencing and corrections practices. My hope is that we can learn from the states through the Justice Reinvestment initiative.

       Speaking of substance abuse, the drug czar - Gil Kerlikowske - is leading the Administration's efforts to improve treatment alternatives for drug-involved offenders. Gil is a close friend, and his experience in law enforcement gives him an appreciation for the value of alternatives like drug courts. We've talked about the importance of swift and certain sanctions for drug offenders - research shows that long sentences aren't appropriate or effective for many in this population.

       I also think we need to explore programs like HOPE in Hawaii. HOPE is focused on probationers, and it relies on swift, certain, and proportionate sanctions for probation violators. If someone violates a term of his probation - say, by failing a drug test - he goes to jail within 48 hours. The first time, the sentence is short - a weekend or maybe a week - but it lengthens for each successive sentence. It also uses a triage approach. Sanctions alone work in keeping some offenders off drugs, and HOPE accounts for that. But offenders who can't stay off drugs and who keep coming back will get referred to intensive treatment. Our NIJ-funded evaluation of HOPE shows that it has been very effective in reducing positive drug tests. There also have been far fewer probation revocations and fewer arrests for new crimes.

       And we need to continue what we're doing with the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) Program, which provides intensive drug treatment in prison. This year, we have $30 million for RSAT. And our RSAT for State Prisoners Program solicitation is now out. The deadline for applications is February 11th.

       I'm working closely with Gil and the Office of National Drug Control Policy to make sure the President's drug strategy emphasizes some of these approaches.

       We're also looking for ways to deal with the issue of mentally ill offenders. I know this is a concern of yours.

       We're trying to encourage partnerships between corrections agencies and community mental health providers - not just on the back end, as offenders are being released - but starting from the moment an offender comes into the system. We need to think of reentry as a process that begins early, long before release.

       Our Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, which is administered by our Bureau of Justice Assistance, is designed to do just that - encourage partnerships between justice agencies and community providers.

       I also know that PREA is on your minds. The recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 12 percent of adjudicated youth in state-operated and large local and private juvenile facilities have been sexually victimized. We'd all agree that sexual assault - whether it involves juveniles or adults - is a very serious problem that we need to aggressively address.

       But I know you also have some practical concerns about some of the recommendations in the PREA Commission Report. The Attorney General understands the challenges that corrections officials are facing, and he wants to work with you to figure out how we can address this problem, together.

       He is personally overseeing the Department's review of the PREA Commission's recommendations, and he is seeking input from all interested stakeholders. We're holding listening sessions as part of the Department's PREA Working Group. And there will be opportunities for formal written comment on the proposed regulations. I also invite you to share your feedback with us informally. You all know Marlene Beckman. Get her e-mail address and send your comments to her. We'll make sure the Department Working Group sees them.

       I also want to let you know that I recently made three appointments to the PREA Review Panel. As you know, the purpose of this panel is to take a look at facilities with a low and high incidence of sexual assault. Information from those hearings is used to aid BJS in identifying common characteristics of victims, perpetrators, and facilities.

       I've appointed Reggie Wilkinson, who, of course, is very familiar to all of you as past President of ASCA. I've also appointed Sharon English, a victim advocate and former Deputy Director for the California Youth Authority. I've also re-appointed Gwen Chun, who is a juvenile justice expert and a past President of ACA. All three members of the panel have a background in corrections, and they understand what you're struggling with.

       I don't want to take up any more time talking. I'd like to hear your thoughts on emerging issues and how OJP can work with you.

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