Part of President Barack Obama's crime platform was a promise to rehabilitate first-time drug offenders.
Right off the bat, this seemed like a tough promise to measure, as it deals with a nationwide system of "drug courts" that divert nonviolent, substance abusing offenders from prison and jail into treatment. Such courts have been around for nearly 20 years; to date there are 2,140 drug courts in operation with another 284 being planned or developed in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
So, Obama won't be breaking a lot of new ground on that front.
However, there was a lot of ink given to former Seattle police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske, the man whom Obama picked to oversee the nation's fight against drugs. He has a history of favoring treatment for some drug offenders, as does his deputy, A. Thomas McLellan, who has been a leader in the area of addiction and treatment research.
In the same speech to announce Kerlikowske as Obama's pick, Vice President Joe Biden took the opportunity to reiterate the administration's commitment to rehabilitation.
"We know about the nexus between drug abuse and crime," he said in March, 2009. "That's why the drug courts I spoke about are so important -- as are prisoner re-entry programs –- because these can serve as the light at the end of a tunnel, a very long, long, dark tunnel, for those who are stuck in the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration."
Since then, drug courts and the need for rehabilitation have been key talking points for Kerlikowske. For instance, a report released in May 2009 that indicated most people arrested for a crime also tested positive for drugs "tells us that we must concentrate our resources on programs that have been proven to break the cycle of drugs and crime," Kerlikowske said. "Incarcerating offenders without treating underlying substance-abuse problems simply defers the time when they are released back into our communities to start harming themselves and our communities again. Research shows that recidivism rates go down substantially among those who undergo treatment and recovery support services in the criminal justice system. President Obama and Vice President Biden support the expansion of drug courts, which divert nonviolent offenders to drug rehabilitation programs."
His office has also been busy requesting drug court reviews from the Government Accountability Office and issuing a national report card on the system.
So, it's clear that Obama is committed to drug treatment in lieu of prison, but we're curious to see if this commitment translates into some concrete policy changes. For now, we're rating this promise In the Works.