Thank you, Tim [Heaphy] – and good morning, everyone. It is a pleasure to be in Roanoke today. And it’s a privilege to hear directly from so many criminal justice leaders about the critical work you’re doing to build stronger, safer communities.
I want to thank Judges [Robert] Ballou and [Michael] Urbanski – and their colleagues here in the Western District – for their leadership from the bench. As we’ve just heard, your shared commitment to innovation, and your fidelity to the highest ideals of our justice system, are helping to transform the lives of veterans who have been charged with nonviolent misdemeanors.
I also want to acknowledge the outstanding work of U.S. Attorney [Tim] Heaphy and every one of his Assistant U.S. Attorneys and support staff members – along with their counterparts from the Federal Public Defender’s Office and the United States Probation Office. By coming together in a non-adversarial manner – and working together to protect public safety, to advocate for the interests of the community, and to evaluate the needs of individual participants in this Veterans Treatment Court – you’re demonstrating the unique power of collaboration when it comes to addressing the root causes of criminal conduct. And alongside dedicated Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists and others from the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center, you’re connecting those who have served our nation with the resources and support they need to overcome substance abuse disorders and to receive treatment for mental health concerns.
Since its inception just over two years ago, this Veterans Treatment Court has shown tremendous promise in helping eligible men and women to break the destructive cycle of criminality and incarceration that traps too many people and weakens too many communities across America. By offering alternatives to incarceration – and linking participants with vital rehabilitation and treatment resources – this program provides a model for preventing recidivism, reducing relapse, and empowering veterans convicted of certain nonviolent crimes to rejoin their communities as productive, law-abiding members of society. It’s also saving resources at a time when they could not be more scarce.
For President Obama – and for me – strengthening programs like this one, and building on work that’s underway in similar diversion and reentry programs throughout the nation, has always been a top priority. As we’ve said many times before: we will never be able to arrest and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.
That’s why – this past August – I unveiled a new “Smart on Crime” initiative that will drive the Justice Department’s efforts to reform America’s criminal justice system as a whole. As a central part of this initiative, we’ve enhanced our focus on diversion programs. And I have directed every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator in his or her office.
I’ve also instituted highly-targeted reforms – including a significant modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies – to ensure that individuals accused of certain low-level federal drug crimes will no longer face excessive mandatory minimum sentences that are out of proportion with their alleged conduct, and serve no deterrent purpose. These changes, coupled with programs like this one, will improve criminal justice outcomes while reducing the burden on our overcrowded prison system. They will make our expenditures both more efficient and more effective. And they can pave the way for additional improvements and legislative changes that can take this work to a new level – provided that leaders in Washington seize the opportunity to come together and do even more.
That’s why – today – I am urging Congress to pass common-sense reforms like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act – introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Mike Lee – which would give judges more discretion in determining appropriate sentences for people convicted of certain federal drug crimes. This bill would also provide a new mechanism for some individuals – who were sentenced under outdated laws and guidelines – to petition judges for sentencing reductions that are consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress in 2010.
These reforms would advance the goals of the “Smart on Crime” initiative – and efforts like this Veterans Treatment Court – by fundamentally improving policies that exacerbate, rather than alleviate, key criminal justice challenges. Such legislation could ultimately save our country billions of dollars while keeping us safe. And it’s becoming clear – thanks to Senators Durbin and Lee, along with Senators Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul – that this type of approach enjoys broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
I look forward to working with members of both parties to refine and advance these proposals in the days ahead. And I pledge my own best efforts – and those of my colleagues throughout the Justice Department – to continue to strengthen America’s criminal justice system and working with leaders like you to keep building the more just society that everyone in this country deserves.
I understand, as you do, that significant challenges lie ahead, and the journey before us will be anything but easy. But that’s exactly why I wanted to be here today: to call attention to the great work you’re leading. To encourage you to keep moving our system forward. And to join you in striving not only to transform lives, but to improve your communities, strengthen your country – and support those who have served in uniform.
I commend you for your dedication to these efforts. I wish you all the best as you continue this important and innovative program. And I thank you, once again, for inviting me to be here today.