Governor Bobby Jindal has just signed a new Louisiana law that will reduce prison sentences by one year for certain felony drug charges. The new law goes into effect August 1 of this year and will last until August 1, 2016, unless it is extended. The main goal of the law is for offenders who have been charged with certain drug crimes to spend time in a drug rehabilitation program rather than in jail. I think this makes a lot of sense – -many people charged with drug possession do in fact have substance abuse issues and are not a danger to society. Helping people get the treatment they need is more beneficial for them and Louisiana than just locking them up in jail for an extra year.
Eligible offenses are a first or second charge of felony drug possession or possession with intent to distribute. If the charge is possession with intent to distribute, the amount of the drugs has to be under certain limits. For example, a possession of marijuana with intent to distribute charge would have to involve possession of less than one pound of marijuana. Additionally, the offender cannot have any convictions for violent or sexual offenses.
If an offender meets the above criteria, they are then evaluated to see if they would benefit from early release and drug abuse treatment. The court wants to feel confident that the offender is not a danger to society, so some issues that are considered during the evaluation is if there is involvement in gang activity or evidence of violent behavior. Additionally, the court is looking for firm plans for the inmate once they get out of jail – such as a place to live, a job, and willingness to seek treatment for substance abuse. The biggest issue, of course, is if the court feels the offender would actually benefit from a substance abuse program.
Reduced Jail time, with Certain Requirements
Once the court approves, an offender can have the last year of their sentence suspended as long as they have already served at least 2 years. However, they will still be on supervised probation and must complete a substance abuse program. If they do not finish the program, or violate probation in some other way – such as committing a new crime — they will have to return to jail. The defendant will need to pay for the drug treatment program themselves unless they can prove they cannot afford it.
Governor Jindal has praised the money-saving aspects of the law – after all, putting people in jail is expensive for Louisiana Taxpayers – but there are many benefits to this new law. There is of course the significant benefit for the people charged with drug possession who will spend one less year of their lives in jail. Additionally, they can focus on getting treatment for drug addiction rather than just sitting in jail. Louisiana has a huge inmate population – more than any other state – and many of those in jail are non-violent and no threat to anyone but themselves. Clearly, these people will benefit much more from rehabilitation than incarceration. If you think you or a loved one may be eligible for a reduced sentence under this law, please call my Louisiana law office at (337) 704-2615.