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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 11, 1998
                              TO THE NATION

                               Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week General Barry McCaffrey, Attorney General Reno, and I were in Atlanta to launch an unprecedented anti-drug campaign to ensure that when young people watch television, listen to the radio, read the newspaper, or surf the Web, they will get the powerful message that drugs are wrong, illegal, and can kill. They're both with me here today. This morning I'd like to talk to you about how we are working to sever the dangerous link between illegal drugs and violent crime.

There is no greater threat to our families and communities than the abuse of illegal drugs. For the last five and a half years, we have worked hard to fight drugs on every front -- on our streets, in our schools, at our borders, in our homes. We've made real progress. Today there are 50 percent fewer Americans using drugs than just 15 years ago.

This morning the Justice Department will release a study that highlights several areas where we have more work to do. On the positive side, it shows that crack cocaine, which once ravaged whole neighborhoods, is now on the decline. In Manhattan, for example, the number of young criminals testing positive for crack cocaine dropped from 77 percent in 1988 to just 21 percent last year. However, abuse of methamphetamine -- after falling for two years -- is now rising in the West and Southwest. Clearly, we have more to do.

In six cities where methamphetamine is prevalent, we will help local governments attack this outbreak with the same community policing strategies that are allowing us to get crack cocaine off the streets.

The Justice Department study also shows that we must do more to make criminals make a clean break from illegal drugs. The study reports that between one-half and three-quarters of the people charged with crimes have drugs in their system at the time of their arrest. We already know that many of these offenders will commit more crimes if they are released with their drug habits intact. Now, if we want to continue to make our communities safer, we simply must get more crime-committing addicts to kick the habit.

In 1989 Attorney General Reno helped to pioneer one of the most successful ways of getting criminals to give up drugs. Her innovation, known as a drug court, gives nonviolent offenders a simple deal: if you submit to regular drug testing, enroll in court-supervised drug treatment, and keep yourself clean, you can stay out of jail; but if you fail tests or fail to show up, you'll be punished to the full extent of the law.

In 1994, through our historic Crime Bill, we helped to expand drug courts from a mere handful back then to more than 400 today. The results have been remarkable. In some cities drug court participants have recidivism, or repeater rates, as low as 4 percent.

So today we'll take another step to break the cycle of drugs and crime by awarding grants to build and enhance drug courts in more than 150 communities across our nation. To stop the revolving door of crime and narcotics, we must make offenders stop abusing drugs.

Now Congress must get involved. I've asked Congress to fund an $85 million testing and treatment initiative like the ones passed just this year in Connecticut and Maryland -- initiatives that will help to support even more drug courts, as well as mandatory drug treatment and testing programs for probationers, prisoners, and parolees. So far Congress has taken no action on this request, despite the indisputable evidence that mandatory drug testing and treatment works for probationers, prisoners, and parolees, and that drug courts clearly work.

I know all members of Congress, regardless of party, want drug use and crime in America to keep going down. On Thursday Speaker Gingrich stood with us in Atlanta and pledged to attack the nation's drug problem in a nonpartisan manner. The best way to do that is for Congress to work with me in the remaining days of this legislative session to create even more drug courts and to expand mandatory testing and treatment of those who commit crimes.

By putting progress ahead of partisanship, we can enhance responsibility, fight drugs, cut crime, and strengthen our nation for the 21st century.

Thank you for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EDT