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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 5, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                          The Roosevelt Room   

12:04 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me begin by just expressing my appreciation to all who have spoken and to all who are here for the years and years and years of commitment you have manifested in this endeavor. I thank my good friend, Senator Leahy, and Congressman Rangel. I thank General Reno and General McCaffrey for making it possible for us to continue to emphasize these things and to actually make progress -- for being both practical and idealistic.

Thank you, Mayor Griffin, for what you said and for what you're doing, and for bringing your police chief, Chief Hoover, here with you.

I want to say, obviously, a special word of appreciation to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has literally redefined what it means to be a Lt. Governor -- (laughter) -- I would hate to succeed her as Lt. Governor of Maryland -- (laughter) -- for her indefatigable energy. I thank the others here from Maryland who are involved in her endeavor.

I'd also like to say a special word of welcome to Judge Tauber and all the others who are here from the drug courts throughout America. I'll have more to say about them in a moment, but I am especially grateful for their endeavors.

Six years ago, as has already been said, our country was at peace, but too many of our communities were at war. Illegal drugs were ravaging cities on both coasts and the American Heartland in between. Crack and methamphetamine use were at near record levels. Drug dealers controlled whole neighborhoods and thought nothing of opening fire on passing police cars. Many communities lived in terror; many children feared walking down the street.

I actually met in a school in California -- I'll never forget this -- with a group of children who were drilled on how to jump out of their desk and hit the floor if they were subject to drive-by shootings. It had a searing impact on me. One of the reasons I ran for President was to give those kids their futures back. And all of you have done a lot to give them their futures back, and I'm very grateful to you.

In every successive year I have proposed a larger antidrug budget. In 1999 -- we had a 30-percent increase just between then and 1996, even as we produced the first balanced budget in a generation. Under General McCaffrey's leadership, we have put these resources to good use: unprecedented new tools for domestic enforcement; unprecedented new campaigns to convince young people to stay off drugs -- I hope you saw one of our ads on the football game last night, if you watched it -- unprecedented new efforts to stem the flow of drugs across our borders; unprecedented new efforts to stop the revolving door between the prison and the street.

As you've heard from Attorney General Reno and General McCaffrey, this strategy is working. We do have the lowest crime rate in 25 years. Drug use is falling. Finally -- thank goodness -- drug use is beginning to fall among our young people.

But the crime rate is still too high. The streets are still too violent. There is still too much drug use, especially in our prisons. The Mayor of Reno whispered to me when Kathleen was talking that Mayor Daley told him it was easier to get drugs in the Illinois Penitentiary than it was on the streets of Chicago. I say this not to criticize the Illinois Penitentiary -- that's a statement that could be made in more than half the states in this country. So we still have a lot to do. There is no better way to start than to help our prisoners break clean from drugs.

Today we release a new study from the Department of Justice that offers more convincing evidence that drug use stokes all kinds of crime, from property crimes like burglary and auto theft, to violent crimes like assault and murder. It shows that one in six offenders landed in prison for a crime committed just to get money for drugs; that nearly a third of prisoners were using drugs at the time they committed their crimes; that more than 80 percent of prisoners have a history of drug use. And when you consider that -- plus the breathtaking statistic that Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend gave us about the volume of heroin and cocaine used by people who are in the criminal justice system -- it is clear to us that if we are going to continue to reduce the rate of crime, we have to do something to avoid releasing criminals with their dangerous drug habits intact.

As you've heard from previous speakers, we've already done a lot to expand drug testing and treatment in federal prisons, and to encourage states to do the same. But today we want to make a dramatic leap forward. The balanced budget I submit to Congress will contain a $215 million zero-tolerance drug program designed to promote drug supervision, our nation's most comprehensive effort ever to test and treat not only criminals in prison, but also those on probation and parole.

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.

Through this initiative, we will also expand our efforts to help communities build and administer drug courts. Charlie Rangel mentioned Attorney General Reno's efforts as a young prosecutor, many years ago. Long before I ever thought I would be standing here as President, because my brother-in-law was a public defender in the Miami drug court that the Attorney General set up, I used to go and visit it in the '80s. I went three times -- one time I stayed for the whole session of court, almost all day. I have never had a more exhilarating experience in a courtroom in my life, including the sessions of the United States Supreme Court I have attended, because finally I saw something that I thought could actually work to change people's lives; to restore people to productive use in society; to reduce the crime rate; to make people safer; and to stop the policy of warehousing people in ever-increasing numbers in order to keep our streets safe.

When I took office, there were just a handful of these drug courts in operation, including the one that the Attorney General launched in Miami. Today there are more than 400. If our budget proposal is approved by Congress, we can move to have more than 1,000 up and running by the end of next year. That is a worthy goal. It will change America for the better. It will give a lot of people their lives back and make our streets safer.

I'm also proud to say that on top of these proposals we will free up another $120 million for drug-free prison initiatives this year -- funds to help states boost testing and treatment, funds to purge their prisons of drugs with advanced new technologies.

At the end of this century, we've made great progress in our efforts to free our children and our communities from drugs and crime. As we begin a new century and a new millennium, we have an enormous opportunity to finish the job, to harness all the resources of the criminal justice system -- our courts, our prosecutors, our prisons, our probation officers, our police -- to break the drug habits of prisoners and people on parole and probation. We have to break this cycle. We have to give all these people a chance to be drug-free and to be productive citizens again. It is the only way we can ever, in the end, assure our children the future they deserve.

Thank you all for what you do. God bless you. (Applause.)

END 12:12 P.M. EST