Press Release

Statement by
Mayor Jeff Griffin of Reno, Nevada
Chair, Criminal and Social Justice Committee
The U.S. Conference of Mayors

National Assembly on Drugs, Alcohol Abuse, and the Criminal Offender
December 7, 1999

My name is Jeff Griffin, and I am the Mayor of Reno, Nevada. I also have the honor of serving as Chair of the Criminal and Social Justice Committee of The United States Conference of Mayors.

I want to thank our federal hosts for convening what I see as an absolutely critical discussion, and for inviting me on behalf of the nation's mayors to relay our concerns regarding the issue of drugs, alcohol abuse and the criminal offender. The U.S. Conference of Mayors continues to work closely with the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy on the many critical issues related to drug abuse and crime, and greatly values our partnership. I want to thank DOJ for its leadership on the "Zero Tolerance Drug Supervision Initiative," and express disappointment that the program was not funded by Congress. I also want to thank HHS for the "Targeted Capacity Assistance Program." Both of these efforts came as a result of cooperation between the Conference of Mayors and the Administration.

As the President of our Conference Mayor Wellington Webb of Denver points out, mayors know that our first job must always be to protect public safety. Every aspect of our community - our home lives, schools and businesses - depend upon a safe environment. And in the fight to keep our cities and towns safe, it is our dedicated police forces which are on the front line in preventing crime, enforcing laws and catching the bad guys.

Over the past decade, a revolution - or perhaps return to past practices - has taken place in law enforcement: community policing. Community policing is based on the theory that it is cost effective, not to mention safer, to prevent crime rather than respond to crime. We have put more officers on the streets with better equipment and smarter deployment. Largely due to these efforts, combined with stricter sentencing policies, we have seen a major decrease in violent and other crimes in communities across the nation.

But we know, both from experience and statistical evidence, that the nation cannot underestimate the influence of drugs on crime rates which are still unacceptably high. While I am reticent to quote statistics and reports which will be discussed by the authors and debated by experts over the next several days, I did find illustrative the report issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in 1998 which found that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are implicated in the crimes and incarceration of 80 percent -- some 1.4 million -- of the 1.7 million men and women behind bars in America.

Facts like these are why mayors have focused so much of our attention on the panoply of issues related to drug abuse and drug control: prevention, interdiction and treatment. We are working in community partnerships to help convince adults and youth to avoid drugs, to get drugs and drug dealers off our streets, and to encourage those in need to seek treatment and to increase the availability of quality treatment.

Simply stated, we are doing everything in our power, and constantly searching for new ideas, to help make our communities drug free.

Yet while mayors control much of our nation's police forces, for the most part we do not control the rest of the criminal justice system - meaning the courts, jails, prisons and probation and parole systems. These are largely in the jurisdiction of the federal government, the states, and the counties. And that is why I am here today.

What the mayors are calling for is a three-point agenda related to drugs and prisons and jails:

First, we would like to see increased efforts to keep drugs out of prisons and jails in the first place, with constant mandatory testing and monitoring of prisoners while in the system, including those on probation or parole.

Second, we want to see the increased provision of quality treatment in prisons and jails, and to persons on probation or parole.

Third -- and this is a very simple idea - we would like for every prisoner to be required to pass a drug test prior to release.

Mayors understand that the issues surrounding drugs in the criminal justice system are complex both from a management and budgetary standpoint. But what we simply cannot understand is how the criminal justice system can let someone out of prison and back into our communities who is not only still addicted to drugs, but possibly using drugs at the time of release.

I wonder what a shock it might be to the average citizen to learn that drugs exist in prisons, or the extent to which drugs are available in some prisons and jails.

Don't we have concrete walls, barbed wire, trained security personnel, search policies, and mandatory continuous testing in prisons and jails?

And if we can't keep drugs out of prisons, can we ever hope to truly win the "war on drugs" in communities which have no walls or barbed wire or mandatory searches and drug testing?

We are not so naive as to believe that a policy of mandatory drug testing prior to release will solve the problem of drug abuse and recidivism. We know that a continuum of treatment and monitoring is required, from the day a person enters the criminal justice system to the day they complete the terms of their probation or parole. We also recognize the critically important nature of alternative systems such as drug courts, which can help intervene early in the drug use cycle before a user becomes a hardcore criminal.

But what kind of message are we sending to our communities if we cannot, at a bare minimum, ensure that on the day of release, a person does not test positive for drug use.

Now, I know that some will raise questions with this policy.

Some will ask: What about the cost? Well what is the cost of a person who leaves a prison or jail, commits a crime, must be dealt with by local law enforcement, and then reenters the criminal justice system all over.

Others will ask: What about persons who have served their entire sentence? Well, if those persons test positive prior to release, they have committed a crime, and will assuredly continue to do so when back on our streets, most likely within hours of release. It is far more cost effective and safer to deal with the crime committed during incarceration than the crime committed in free society.

To start this initiative, we call on the federal government to require that every person leaving a federal prison pass a drug test. Our federal government must set the example for the nation. After all, according to a 1997 survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 73 percent of federal prisoners reported prior drug use, up from 60 percent in 1991 -- a fact recognized by the federal government which has increased the provision of treatment in its prisons.

We also seek a partnership with governors, state legislators and county leaders to ensure that every person leaving prison or jail for release back into the community pass a drug test.

It is our hope that testing for drugs - which theoretically should not be available to prisoners - will not simply punish those that use while incarcerated, but rather help encourage addicted individuals to seek treatment, and increase the incentive for the managers of the criminal justice system to make quality treatment available.

There is evidence, much of which I expect will be presented and debated over the next several days, that a comprehensive effort to reduce drug use in prisons and provide treatment can work. The Pennsylvania Prison Drug Testing Program -- which includes using electronic drug-detection devices, increasing drug-sniffing dog teams, monitoring inmate telephone calls, conducting daily, random urine tests, and expanding substance abuse treatment -- has made Pennsylvania Prisons nearly drug free according to a recent study. And I know that many other states, as well as the federal government, have adopted strong drug policies which are making a difference, both in regard to those in prison and those on probation or parole.

We are under no illusion that the strategy I have outlined will ensure drug free communities or eliminate drug related recidivism. Abstinence alone is no substitute for treatment for those in need. But without abstinence, there is little hope of any treatment working. We must make it as difficult as possible for prisoners to gain access to illegal drugs, and to provide a strong disincentive for them to use such drugs even if they are available. Instead, we must provide incentives for them to seek treatment -- and ensure that such treatment is available.

I have come to you today not as an expert in all issues relating to drugs in the criminal justice system, but rather as a community leader and citizen who is extremely concerned about the damage done by drugs to our adults and children. I hope to learn much over the course of this important conference, and look forward to hearing about the steps that mayors can take to help address the problem of drugs in the criminal justice system.

But I ask that our call for a comprehensive policy regarding interdiction, treatment and testing be given serious thought over the next several days and that we work together towards an agenda which can help make our communities and our nation safer, and improve the lives of all our citizens.

President Clinton strongly stated in a January 5, 1999 White House event in which I joined him, "To inmates in every state, we want to send a message: If you stay on drugs, you must stay behind bars. To probationers and parolees, we want to send a message: If you want to keep your freedom, you have to keep free of drugs."

Let's continue to work together to make this a reality. Thank you.