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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Editorial: A logical approach to a statewide problem

Last Modified: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 6:15 PM

One of the better pieces of legislation that state lawmakers approved and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law last month will dramatically increase access to drug treatment for non-violent drug offenders incarcerated in Louisiana’s prisons.

HB 442 by state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, eliminates some eligibility restrictions for judicial drug court and authorizes the state Department of Corrections to oversee a new substance abuse probation program.

It also encourages drug treatment by offering early release and parole for first and second, non-violent, non-sex offenders who have served two years of their sentence, are within a year of release and have successfully completed a 90-day drug treatment program.

“There are a number of low-risk, non-violent drug offenders in our prisons who can still turn things around and become productive members of society instead of repeat offenders,’’ said Jindal after signing the bill into law. ‘‘This common sense piece of legislation will provide these offenders with the treatment they need to recover and safely re-enter our communities. This reform will not only save taxpayer dollars, but it will also enable folks in our criminal justice system to focus resources on protecting our citizens from violent and other serious criminals.”

Proponents of the new law believe drug treatment for offenders will lower recidivism rates and reduce the state’s prison population.

To be eligible for the substance abuse probation program, the defendant must be charged with felony possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession with intent to distribute a less than 28 grams of a controlled dangerous substance or possession with intent to distribute less than a pound of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids. In addition, the prosecutor in the case must agree to channeling the defendant into the program.

Those convicted of a crime of violence or any sex offense, or anyone who has participated in or declined to participate in a drug diversion probation program will not be eligible for the program.

We applaud the logical approach to address the state’s burgeoning prison population and its costs. These drug treatment programs have the potential of sparing some offenders prison time and others who are serving their sentence not only early release, but a better chance of staying out of prison once they are on the outside.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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