For Immediate Release

April 29, 2015

CONTACT:   Bridgett Frey – 202-225-5384

Ian Jannetta – 202-225-1527

Van Hollen Discusses Criminal Justice Reform, Failed War on Drugs at Forum on Poverty

Prison rates for nonviolent drug offenses, especially among minorities, is a national scandal

Washington, DCToday Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen spoke at The Hill’s Roadmaps to Opportunity: Federal Policy, Poverty & America’s Kids about the need to take a different approach on drugs to combat chronic poverty and create more economic opportunity. Excerpts of his remarks are below:

“This is a question of trying to make sure that we have justice in America, and also get at the deeper issues that are underlying some of the profound problems we’re seeing in Baltimore City and other places. And part of it is deep poverty. Part of it is the fact that the war on poverty that Johnson announced so many years ago has had many successes, but we have also not seen that promise fulfilled. And it also is a function of the fact that there has been a lot more focus on the war on drugs than the war on poverty.”

“I believe it has been a fundamental mistake to treat the war on drugs as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a public health issue. And the result is you’re seeing hundreds of thousands of people behind bars for non-violent drug offenses… This is a constellation of issues we need to address with a real sense of urgency in this country. It shows that budget debates are about a lot more than just the numbers on the page – they go to fundamental policies.”

“I do think that the fact that we have so many Americans, especially minorities, who are imprisoned today for nonviolent drug offenses, is also a national scandal. And if you look at our incarceration rates for nonviolent crimes, they are huge. And so we need to address the drug issues through a health care approach. Kurt Schmoke was the Mayor of Baltimore many years ago, and, in my view, he was really ahead of his time when he was talking about this very different approach to drugs. Because simply locking someone up for drug use does not solve the underlying problem, and what it does do is lead to real damage in these communities. So we need to tackle the issue of drugs, but we need to tackle it in a smart way with a health policy approach rather than a criminal justice approach because all of these things are now interrelated, and we need to address them.”

Bobby Scott is somebody who I’ve worked with closely on this issue, and he’s just been tenacious in trying to move this conversation forward. As you mentioned, others have as well. I do think there’s room for bipartisan agreement. There have been a number of conversations already. There is legislation. And I’m hoping this can be something we are able to get done, even in this polarized environment. And I think it would be a major step forward if we could.”

“We also need to do all of the other pieces we’re talking about here that are on the budget side – investing in job opportunities, more incentives for business to create jobs in some of these high unemployment areas.”