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

Coalition of State Drug Court Coordinators Meeting

Thursday, September 30, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, West. I'm delighted to be here. And I'm pleased to join Kristin and Rick. Thank you both for inviting me. And I'm also so pleased to see West again. I've always valued his guidance and leadership and the work of NADCP. It's great to see you again, West.

       As a long-time proponent of drug courts and partnerships, I have to say, I really like the symbolism here – we've got state and federal agencies here talking about ways to strengthen local programs. I think that's really the way to ensure that the important work that so many of you have done in the drug court movement will continue.

       I'm a huge fan of statewide coordination and planning. My experience has taught me that, no matter how effective a program or an approach is, it loses something if it's not part of a statewide strategic plan. And that's what all of you are doing – bringing it all together so that we're getting the most out of our programs.

       And it's very important to me, personally, that we maximize the potential of drug courts. As many of you know, when I was Assistant Attorney General back in the 90s, I 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 never fail to be moved. It's so clear that drug courts really do make a difference, both in terms of changing individual offender behavior and in terms of improving community safety.

       As you know, I had the pleasure of joining the Attorney General at the NADCP conference in Boston – I know most, if not all, of you were there – and I was proud to hear Eric Holder talk about his and the Department of Justice's commitment to drug courts. As he put it, "it's time to determine how we will put drug courts in reach of every individual who needs and would benefit from these programs." I know this is a top priority of yours, so he was clearly offering a ringing endorsement of your work.

       He went on to talk about the President's commitment, which is reflected in his budget request for next year. Drug courts are also a big part of this Administration's National Drug Control Strategy. There's a strong focus in the strategy, as you know, on addressing the underlying substance abuse disorders of offenders, which, of course, is the ultimate aim of drug courts, and it takes into account one of the 10 key components of drug courts that NADCP identified – namely, that they're part of a continuum of responses to drug-involved offenders.

       Our commitment to drug courts remains very strong. In fact, today I'm pleased to announce that BJA is awarding 83 grants totaling more than $22.4 million to support state and local drug courts. These grants will help communities start up new drug courts and enhance programs in jurisdictions where drug courts already exist.

       More than $6.3 million of this will go to state agencies to improve, enhance, or expand drug court services statewide. In response to your concerns, these awards will give states more discretion in deciding which drug programs receive federal drug court dollars – which gets back to my earlier emphasis on the importance of statewide planning.

       In all, both the local and state awards make good on this Administration's commitment to drug courts as the linchpin of our response to drug-involved offenders.

       Drug courts really are central to reducing drug abuse and to keeping communities safe. But I think the real contribution of drug courts – as I said in Boston – is that they've introduced a new way of thinking about the justice system.

       Drug courts, as you know, focus on outcomes and changing offender behavior, and we're beginning to see this philosophy becoming part of broader policy discussions about the role of the justice system. Drug courts have shown that the system has the potential to effect real change. And clearly, they've introduced a new way of doing business in the justice system.

       Our National Institute of Justice recently released preliminary findings from its five-year Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation. We're still consolidating those findings, but early results show that participants reported less drug-related and criminal activity 6 and 18 months out and spent less time behind bars. The findings also show that drug courts are effective in reducing relapses among participants with long histories of drug use, which I think is very significant. Those of us familiar with drug courts have known this anecdotally, but it's great to see this documented in the research.

       Final results from this evaluation will be available early next year, but these preliminary findings are very encouraging. And as more information is available, we'll have an even stronger base of evidence about what works in addressing drug-involved offenders.

       These results are already informing our program development activities. When BJA's FY 2011 drug court solicitation comes out, you'll notice a substantial revision – we'll be encouraging applicants to address evaluation findings of effectiveness. This is part of a larger emphasis on evidence-based practices that the Department of Justice is placing on all its programs. One of my top priorities – with the full backing of Attorney General Holder – is to use OJP's leverage and resources to move the criminal and juvenile justice fields towards an evidence-based focus in programming.

       Last year, I launched what we call an Evidence Integration Initiative – or E2I, for short. E2I has three primary objectives:

  • to improve the quantity and quality of evidence that we generate through our research, evaluation, and statistical functions;
  • to better integrate evidence in program and policy decisions; and
  • to improve the translation of evidence into practice.

       This is an OJP-wide effort, and our goal is to help the practitioner field better understand what has been shown to work. I think the criminal justice field has suffered for too long from both a lack of emphasis on evidence and research and a failure to use what knowledge we do have.

       Drug courts research is a good example of the growing body of evidence we have in hand to support the expansion of effective practices. We need to build on that and provide a base of knowledge that practitioners from all types of settings can use. At the same time, we've got to do a better job of translating that evidence and helping practitioners actually use it. There are few things more frustrating to me than this disconnect between research and practice, and I want to help bring the two sides together.

       One of the core elements of E2I that we're working on is what we've called a Crime Solutions Resource Center, which will serve as a "What Works and What's Promising" clearinghouse. Another key element is a "Help Desk," or diagnostic center, that will help jurisdictions figure out what they need, and adopt the best evidence-based approach.

       These will, I hope, make it possible for us to take what we know about effective programs like drug courts and make that knowledge work in the field. And as I suggested earlier when I mentioned the revised drug court solicitation, this is a way of thinking that will inform all our program development activities.

       Drug courts are a good place to help us get our footing. We have a significant and growing body of both research and effective practices in the drug courts arena. Again, we know from research – produced by NIJ and others – that drug courts work. They reduce recidivism, they reduce drug use, and they bring down costs. This is the kind of information we need to take drug courts to scale.

       We're already seeing this done in the juvenile justice field. Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is working closely with ONDCP, the Department of Education, SAMHSA, and other agencies on adolescent recovery issues, and drug courts are a big part of that.

       We've also been involved in a public-private partnership with CSAT and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund juvenile drug courts. This is an area where innovative approaches are especially needed. I think young drug-involved offenders can really benefit from the treatment, support, and accountability that drug courts provide.

       And this collaboration with CSAT and others prompts me to return to something I mentioned earlier, and that's the critical importance of partnerships. Partnerships, as you well know, are the foundation of drug courts, and I think we at the federal level have a responsibility to model partnerships.

       Our work with CSAT is an example of our efforts to do just that. In addition to the juvenile drug court program I just mentioned, BJA worked with CSAT to issue the first-ever joint solicitation to enhance the capacity of adult drug courts. This allows applicants to compete for access to both criminal justice and treatment funds with one application. BJA's contribution will help to enhance drug court operations and offender management services, while CSAT's funds will target treatment services.

       So drug courts really exemplify the approach I think we need to take with all our programs – taking full advantage of partnerships and building on a base of evidence to maximize the potential of the justice system.

       Drug courts demonstrate that a justice-based approach can, in fact, change lives. And I'm very proud to be part of an Administration that is so strongly committed to supporting this approach – through funding, through training and technical assistance, through a drug court resource center, through a juvenile drug court program, and through intensive research and evaluation.

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

       I want to thank all of you for dedication to the mission of drug courts and for leading the way in improving the justice system's response to drug-involved offenders. I admire so much what you do!

       Thank you for your time, and thank you for all your work.


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