Chief Justice praises drug courts to Louisiana legislators

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson told a joint session of the state Legislature that drug courts are a good example of the judicial and legislative branches working together.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson told a joint session of the state Legislature that drug courts are a good example of the judicial and legislative branches working together.

Judge updates state leaders

Louisiana’s first black chief justice of the state Supreme Court told lawmakers Tuesday drug courts are a shining example of the judicial and legislative branches working together.

“Drug courts continue to be the most effective alternative sentencing option in Louisiana, saving taxpayer money and reducing crime and saving lives,” Chief Justice Bernette Johnson told a joint session of the Legislature.

The judge made her comments during the annual “State of the Judiciary” address, which allows the chief justice to discuss issues of concern to the legal community, lawmakers and other taxpayers.

Johnson was sworn in to her post in February, less than four months after her colleagues resolved arguments on whether she was entitled to the job.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ended the dispute in October, ruling that Johnson’s years of appointed service would count in deciding which justice met the standard under the state Constitution.

In her 30-minute address, Johnson noted that the Legislature in 2001 allocated funds for the court to set up an office to oversee newly established drug courts statewide.

The idea behind the push, she said, was for a judge, drug court team and others to offer an alternative to jail time for those whose legal problems stemmed from their addiction.

“Rather than incarcerate these individuals, they are provided with services,” she said.

The aid includes substance abuse treatment and education supervised by a judge who can order sanctions and rewards based on the client’s performance.

Clients are drug-tested regularly and are required to attend varying levels of treatment.

Johnson said more than 10,000 clients have graduated from Louisiana’s drug court program and 449 drug-free babies have been born to clients.

Last year, 304 clients who were previously unemployed found jobs and 68 clients who had not finished high school earned a GED, she said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal in February offered a bipartisan plan to expand the initiative beyond the current 49 programs statewide.

Jindal said the recidivism rate for those who finish the drug court, which includes probation and heavy supervision, is just 3.2 percent.

The dispute over who would become chief justice involved Johnson and Justice Jeffrey Victory, of Shreveport, who was among six judges on hand for the speech.