Thank you, Judge [Lee] Satterfield, for that kind introduction – and for your leadership on the bench. It’s a pleasure to be back in the courtroom today, and to join so many friends and colleagues – including Judge [Frederick] Weisberg, Director [Susan] Shaffer, Director [Terrence] Walton and their team in the Pretrial Services Agency; West Huddleston, and the rest of NADCP’s staff; David Mineta, and his colleagues at ONDCP; as well as Lolita Andrews; nonprofit and community leaders from across the District of Columbia; law enforcement officers, counselors, and administrators; proud family members and friends; and – especially – the graduates and participants in the Drug Court program who are here with us. I am glad that I can share this moment with each of you – and delighted to see that Ron Machen, our outstanding U.S. Attorney, remembers how to handle the calendar. I join this crowd of allies and supporters in celebrating your achievements and marking the progress – and the inspiring commitment – that you’ve made.
I know the path that has led our graduates to this point has not been easy. In many ways, it’s been an uphill battle. You’ve had good days and bad days. And I’m sure there were moments of doubt and difficulty, when the way forward was anything but clear. But the fact that you’re here this morning is a testament to the strength that defines every individual who enters treatment, dedicates themselves to transformative change, and summons the courage – and the resolve – to start down the road to recovery and sobriety.
For each of you, this program presented an opportunity – and indeed a challenge – to be honest with yourself, your family, and your friends. Today’s graduates have made it as the result of months of hard work, perseverance, and dedication. Those who are still progressing through the program have demonstrated their willingness to confront problems with addiction and work to reclaim their futures. Many have already made remarkable strides. And I hope that all of our current participants will be encouraged by what their peers have accomplished – and seize this opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to turning your life around, rebuilding relationships with family and friends, and overcoming every obstacle that stands in your way.
Nearly twenty years ago, this Court started the Drug Court program to help empower you to do just that. Today, under Judge Weisberg’s leadership, it serves as an alternative to traditional probation and incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders – and as part of a commonsense approach to protecting public safety, improving our streets and neighborhoods, deterring crime, and encouraging sobriety through education and assistance.
During my time as a D.C. Superior Court Judge – and over the course of a career spent as a prosecutor, U.S. Attorney, Deputy Attorney General, and now as Attorney General – I’ve seen firsthand the costs of drug abuse, and the devastating consequences it can have for individuals and families alike. I’ve seen people get out of prison only to land back in court and find themselves once again behind bars for repeat offenses. At times, I know it seems like an endless cycle of arrests, trials, and release – with more than 60 percent of people who are arrested testing positive for drug use; half of all inmates clinically addicted; and a majority of drug abusers at risk of committing another crime once they get out of prison.
Fortunately, the people in this room are demonstrating that it’s possible to break this destructive pattern. As Judge Weisberg made clear on the day that each of you was admitted – this program “is intended to be difficult, because it’s intended to work.” And I am proud to report that the results – of this Drug Court and of those all over the country – have been clear. Fully three-quarters of drug court graduates nationwide are able to avoid re-arrest for at least two years after the program. Studies suggest that drug courts can reduce crime by as much as 45 percent more than other sentencing options. And the men and women we recognize today are living proof that this program – and the support system that has helped them along this journey, and that will always be available for each of you to call upon – can be effective.
You’ve also shown that drug courts can yield significant savings for taxpayers – to the tune of more than $3 saved for every dollar we spend – an important consideration, especially in this time of growing demands and increasingly limited budgets. Even more critically, you’re illustrating that they can reunite families, help communities feel safer and more secure – and make lives whole again.
Many of you are already employed. Others will soon be able to actively resume the job search without fear of failing drug tests. All of you are making good-faith efforts to rebuild trust and confidence with loved ones, friends, and neighbors. And you’ve helped to launch, lead, and sustain a national movement.
This year alone, more than 2,600 drug courts will serve over 120,000 people across the country. Well over a million people have graduated from America’s drug courts to date, with more making progress each day. And every indication suggests that programs like this one will – and must – continue to be an essential part of our larger national strategy for ensuring public safety, protecting the American people from crime and violence, and promoting better outcomes for those who become involved with our criminal justice system – and who are willing to work through these challenges and seize the prospect of a productive future.
My colleagues and I across the Justice Department – and the entire Obama Administration – remain deeply committed to expanding this work through funding grants, training, and other forms of assistance. We’re eager to continue partnering with leading jurists like those who serve this Court, tireless advocates like our allies at the PSA and NADCP, and determined drug court participants like each of you.
I know this program is strict – and that it’s extraordinarily difficult to get through. But that’s why I am so proud to celebrate the progress that today’s graduates have made, to recognize the achievements of those who are continuing to move along the path to recovery, and to encourage every drug court participant to keep fighting. Keep working hard. And keep up your efforts to reclaim your lives, rejoin your communities, and strengthen our great nation.
Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished. And thank you, once again, for the opportunity to share this moment with you today.