Portman-Whitehouse Forum: Breaking the Cycles of Addiction and Recidivism


Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sheldon Whitehouse(D-R.I.) are teaming up to host an Addiction and Criminal Justice Forum in Washington, D.C. to focus on preventing and treating drug abuse as well as addressing recidivism issues in the criminal justice system. The forum is a bipartisan convening of public health advocates, members of law enforcement, public officials, and researchers aimed at identifying best practices and strategies at the intersection of criminal justice, addiction, and recovery. The morning session featured opening remarks and a panel on advancements and challenges in treatment.  The afternoon session featured panels on recidivism, diversion and alternatives to incarceration, and the heroin and opiate crisis.

In case you missed it, Roll Call featured Portman and Whitehouse’s op-ed on how best to prevent drug addiction before it starts and provide treatment to those who want to turn their lives around.

In March 2014, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, legislation authored by Portman and Whitehouse to reduce recidivism and provide drug treatment and mental health services to individuals in the federal corrections system, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote of 15-2.

Portman is also the author of bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, a law that supports state and local reentry programs to reduce recidivism.  Then-Congressman Portman originally authored the Second Chance Act with the late Cleveland Democrat Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and it was passed into law in 2008.

“We all know that it is better if we can prevent drug abuse before it starts, and yet prevention can only take us so far,” said Portman. “As long as humanity has been around, there has been addiction, and addiction will be around until the end of time. So while we want to prevent drug abuse before it starts, we must also do all that we can to help those who have fallen into addiction get out of it.”

“Senators Portman and Whitehouse are true leaders in addressing the opioid dependence epidemic in the United States. By proposing wider adoption of prevention, treatment and criminal justice reforms that have been successful in their own communities, they are driving this public health crisis to the forefront of national policy discussion,” said Richard Pops, Chief Executive Officer of Alkermes, and a participant in today’s forum. In February, Portman toured the Alkermes facility in Wilmington, Ohio to learn about the company’s production medication used in the treatment of opiate abuse.

Excerpts of Portman and Whitehouse’s op-ed are below, and it can be found in its entirety here.

Breaking the Cycles of Addiction and Recidivism
Sens. Rob Portman and Sheldon Whitehouse
Roll Call
April 29, 2014

Some issues transcend political divisions.

How best to prevent drug addiction before it starts and provide treatment to those who want to turn their lives around is one of those issues. Over the last few decades, we’ve learned a lot about what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to preventing and treating drug abuse. And while we’ve made some significant strides in our fight against addiction, we can do even better.

One thing we have learned is that the problem of addiction is intimately tied to the problem of high recidivism rates in our criminal justice system where many end up back in prison soon after being released. In fact, as many as 85 percent of people who go through the criminal justice system struggle with drugs and alcohol, and over half meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction. That adds to both prison populations and rates of recidivism. Until we help them break their addiction, reforming their lives and becoming productive members of society will be almost impossible. That means more fathers and mothers who are not in their kids’ lives, more broken families, and because families are the heart of any community, more broken communities as well.

Because addiction and recidivism are so intimately connected, we should address these problems together. In an effort to do just that, this week we are bringing together community leaders, treatment professionals, and experts in criminal justice for an in-depth forum on drug addiction and recidivism.

Many of the groups attending the forum already shared their expertise and experience with us as we crafted legislation to reform the federal prison system—the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act. Our bill applies policies that have worked to reduce recidivism in many states to the federal prison system. We worked to combine our bill with other federal prison reforms proposed by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, and our package was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. The time is right for Congress to enact these policies for federal inmates.

Reforming the federal prison system will save American taxpayers money, potentially resulting in billions in savings. But the greatest benefits go beyond dollars and cents. The reforms we propose will change the lives of individuals who are given a second chance, making our communities safer and more secure while allowing people to reach their full potential and become productive members of society.