Thank you, Your Honor – and good morning, everyone. It is a pleasure to be in Charleston today, and a privilege to join you in celebrating such an important milestone in the life of today’s BRIDGE graduate.
I appreciate the opportunity to see firsthand the critical work that you all are doing to strengthen public health and build stronger, safer communities. And I’d like to thank Judge [Bruce Howe] Hendricks for allowing me to observe today’s proceedings – and for your leadership of this outstanding program. Just as importantly, I want to thank all of our program participants for sharing your stories.
I know the paths that brought you to this courtroom have been anything but easy. But each of you is here today because you’ve decided not to let past choices – and challenges – define you. You’re working hard to stay on a constructive path. And I am proud of every one of you.
Since its inception, the BRIDGE pilot program has shown tremendous promise in helping to reduce recidivism by empowering determined people like you to overcome addiction, to fight through adversity, and to contribute to their communities. None of this would be possible without the dedication of the judges of this Court; the prosecutors and staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, including your outstanding U.S. Attorney, Bill Nettles; their counterparts in the Probation Office and in the Office of the Federal Defender; treatment service providers and members of the defense bar; and a wide range of community partners.
As a result of their efforts – and the work of participants like the graduate we recognize today, who has refused to give up or give in – to date, more than a dozen people have successfully completed this program.
That’s why I’m so pleased to celebrate with Katie this morning – as she joins this distinguished group and takes her place among the ranks of well over a million people across the country who have graduated from drug courts like this one.
Katie is a remarkable person who has demonstrated an uncommon ability to persevere in the face of tremendous challenges. She has seen how drug addiction can bring a young mother who had never before been charged with anything but a motor vehicle violation into federal court – and put her family at risk. Fortunately, through her involvement in the BRIDGE program, Katie has moved beyond associations that contributed to her substance dependency. She has earned her GED. And she’s learned important life skills that are helping her reach her potential – as a worker, as a citizen, and, most importantly, as the mother of two great kids.
Katie and her peers in this courtroom aren’t merely data points. They are passionate individuals who have taken on the rigors of a cutting-edge drug court program in order to build brighter futures. They’re also living proof that programs like this one can not only improve – and save – countless lives; they can help us conserve resources at a time when they could hardly be more scarce.
That’s why I made it a priority to be here, and why I’ve traveled around America to highlight innovative programs like this one – so jurisdictions across the country can emulate, learn from, and expand upon the work you’re doing right here in Charleston.
Last August, I launched a new “Smart on Crime” initiative that’s driving the Justice Department’s efforts to strengthen the federal criminal justice system and increase our focus on proven programs like this one. As part of this initiative, I have directed every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry coordinator in his or her office – something that U.S. Attorney Nettles has already done.
Just yesterday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to modestly reduce federal sentencing guidelines for certain drug crimes – a change that marks a major step forward in our effort to reshape the criminal justice system’s approach to dealing with drug offenses. This measured reduction sends a strong message about the need to reserve the harshest penalties for the most serious crimes. And it will help rein in spending on our overburdened prison system, which consumes nearly a third of the Justice Department’s total budget, while preserving public safety.
Going forward, my colleagues and I will work with Congress to advance commonsense legislation like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act to further enhance the fairness of our criminal justice system – and to secure the passage of President Obama’s budget request, which includes $173 million to sustain and advance this important work – so we can ensure that it remains a top priority throughout the nation.
I want to thank everyone here for their support of these ongoing efforts. And I want to congratulate Katie, once again, on this extraordinary achievement. I am inspired by your success. And I encourage you to keep working hard. Keep striving to transform your community and strengthen your country. And never lose sight of your responsibility to serve as a role model for those around you – particularly the young people who need your support and look up to your example.
Each of you has the power to make a profound, positive difference in our collective effort to forge a more just, more fair, and more inclusive society. And I look forward to hearing great things about all that you accomplish in the months and years ahead.