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Holder sees drug courts as a lifeline

AG declares their expansion a top priority

US Attorney General Eric H. Holder spoke yesterday at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals conference at the Hynes Veterans Convention Center. US Attorney General Eric H. Holder spoke yesterday at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals conference at the Hynes Veterans Convention Center. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / June 4, 2010

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US Attorney General Eric H. Holder, speaking in Boston yesterday at the nation’s largest conference on drugs and crime, said drug courts play a key role in rehabilitating addicts and reducing crime and should be available to more people, especially juveniles.

“At my Justice Department this is a top priority,’’ said Holder, speaking to several thousand people at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center during the National Association of Drug Court Professionals 16th annual training conference. “You have proven that redemption and rehabilitation are possible.’’

Drug courts, which were first established in Miami in 1989 and now operate in every state, give those arrested a last chance to stay out of jail by committing to treatment under intense court supervision. Defendants must submit to frequent drug testing and meet regularly with a judge, who monitors their progress. They face sanctions — including jail — if they do not comply.

In Massachusetts, there are 22 drug court sessions operated by the state courts, as well as one by the US District Court in Boston.

Holder said that there is lower recidivism among those who graduate from drug court and that more money needs to be allocated for additional drug courts, including more that focus exclusively on juveniles.

“I believe that we can put drug courts within reach of every person who needs them, and I am confident that we can,’’ Holder said.

Before Holder addressed the crowd, more than a dozen former addicts and their families took the stage in the auditorium and offered emotional accounts of how drug courts had helped them get clean and sober and overcome despair and hopelessness to transform their lives.

After a 25-year drug addiction, George Moorman, of Kentucky, was headed to jail when a judge sent him to drug court. Since graduating from the program in 1998, he has returned to school and “went from disgrace to Amazing Grace, from nobody to somebody, from Class D to PhD,’’ he said.

Former American Idol Ruben Studdard drew a standing ovation after singing, “I Need an Angel,’’ while before-and-after photos of people who graduated from drug courts flashed across large screens.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.

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