Editorial: A logical approach to a statewide problem

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.