Our Views: Drug program instead of jail

For its population, Louisiana jails more of its people than any other state. The good news is that state and local officials are working to find alternatives to prison for offenders who have a chance to go straight.

In the 2013 Legislature, another in a series of reform bills was passed to expand treatment for low-risk drug offenders now in Louisiana prisons.

Signing the new bill into law, Gov. Bobby Jindal used a great phrase about being “smart on crime.” That is the name of a coalition of conservatives across the country who favor alternatives to the high costs, financial and social, of lock-them-up policies.

The new bill by state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, significantly increases access to drug treatment for offenders jailed for non-violent crimes. The bill allows some offenders to go into drug court probation and mandatory treatment, avoiding the high costs of prison.

For those already in jail, with good records, the bill eases rules for early release after completion of treatment programs.

“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,” Jindal said in signing the bill. “This common sense piece of legislation will provide these offenders with the treatment they need to recover and safely re-enter our communities.”

As with earlier measures pushed by Lopinto and others, the alternative to jail is not simply release, but intensive parole supervision. That is vastly cheaper than prison — so long, we note, as the savings from the jails are put into effective probation and parole programs.

And to be effective, this new approach requires the collaboration of all those involved in the criminal justice system to make it work for both the safety of the public and the rehabilitation of the prisoner.

We commend Lopinto for his continued leadership in this effort.