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Drug Czar Pushes Criminal Justice Reform

Gil Kerlikowske insists that Obama's drug strategy will emphasize prevention, treatment and "smart on crime" policies.

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By Victoria Kim

05/23/13

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Outlining Obama's "science-based" approach to drug policy today, US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske cited the results of a new study that confirms links between drug use and crime. He called for an expansion of criminal justice reforms, such as drug courts, aimed at addressing the underlying causes of crime.

Kerlikowske's Office of National Drug Control Policy presented new data from the 2012 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report (ADAM II): Of the five cities observed—Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, New York and Sacramento—an average 75% of arrested adult males tested positive for at least one illegal drug, up from 71% in last year's ADAM II. Marijuana remained the drug most often detected; in three of the five cities over half of arrestees tested positive for pot. Cocaine use has continued to drop, though it's still the second most commonly detected drug. The percentage of arrestees testing positive for opiates, however, rose in three of the five cities. "This study contributes significantly to our understanding of links between drug use and crime in America," says Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute think tank. "These high rates of drug use among arrestees indicate that we must work to support effective approaches like prevention and treatment that address the root cause of criminal involvement, and not just the symptoms."

"Seeing the drug problem through this public health lens is a sensible and effective way to approach criminal justice reform," Kerlikowske said at the Urban Institute's "21st Century Drug Policy Reform" event today. He says the government will follow a strategy emphasizing prevention, treatment and "smart on crime" policies, in order to break the cycle of addiction, crime and mass incarceration. Referring to the US prison population—the largest in the world—Kerlikowske said, "Research has shown that expanding access to treatment, especially among incarcerated individuals, can dramatically reduce the rate of repeat offenses, resulting in reincarceration." 

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