BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Some nonviolent drug offenders will be able to leave prison early while others may avoid jail entirely if they complete an intensive drug treatment program, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The shift to rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment for low-risk offenders is expected to save $6 million next year, in a state with repeated budget shortfalls and with more people in prison per capita than any other state in the nation.
Savings from the bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, already are included the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
"There are a number of low-risk, nonviolent drug offenders in our prisons who can still turn things around and become productive members of society instead of repeat offenders," Jindal said in a written statement. "This commonsense piece of legislation will provide these offenders with the treatment they need to recover and safely re-enter our communities."
The Republican governor signed the bill late Thursday.
The measure creates an early release program for nonviolent criminals jailed on first and second offense charges involving drug possession and possession with intent to distribute. They'll have to serve at least two years of their sentence, have less than one year left in prison and complete a 90-day treatment program, along with other criteria.
The Department of Corrections estimates 844 offenders would be eligible for release from prison throughout the fiscal year under the provisions of the bill, including 527 inmates eligible to leave jail on July 1, according to a financial analysis of the bill.
Others convicted of similar drug crimes could be diverted to a substance abuse treatment program under probation supervision by the state corrections department, instead of being sent to prison, through an expansion of Louisiana's "drug court" program. Successful completion of the program ends with the crime expunged from a person's record.
An estimated 500 offenders are expected to avoid prison under the law in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the financial analysis of Lopinto's bill.
The lessened sentences will only be available to people who haven't been convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses.
Louisiana has a larger proportion of drug and nonviolent offenders in prison than the national average and gives nonviolent offenders longer sentences, Jindal has said.
"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," the governor said.
The provisions of the law will expire on Aug. 1, 2016, unless lawmakers tracking its progress decide to renew it.
House Bill 442 can be found at www.legis.la.gov