Gov. Bobby Jindal, along with lawmakers and justice system stakeholders, held a press conference in Baton Rouge Feb. 15 to announce a series of legislative proposals aimed at reducing recidivism among drug offenders and improving services and programs for juveniles. (Photo by Lauren McGaughy/NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune))
It might take Louisiana 100 years to follow the lead of Colorado and Washington, which legalized marijuana possession a few months ago, but even here a liberal whiff is in the air. It is a very faint one, because, when we elected Bobby Jindal governor, the idea was not to turn Baton Rouge over to a bunch of hippies. Even though he claimed to have witnessed an exorcism, mind-altering substances did not appear to be his bag. He has always been the model of a law-and-order Republican.
But the times are a-changing, and it is no longer regarded as subversive to suggest that locking up penny-ante offenders and throwing away the key might not be the most enlightened policy. Now, here comes Jindal to propose somewhat less prison and more probation and treatment. It is about time. Louisiana locks up a higher percentage of its citizens for drug offenses, for longer terms, than anywhere else. The average sentence for possession here, on first and second offense, is four years.
It costs a lot to destroy so many lives — we imprisoned 1,350 first- and second-timers in 2010 and 2011 — and financial considerations will help drive any reforms.
Jindal is still not reaching for the kid gloves. He plans to focus on “rehabilitating those who can be rehabilitated – non-violent, non-habitual offenders.” He might as well have said “those who don’t need to be rehabilitated,” because such folks would not be caught up in a rational criminal justice system. Let them enjoy an occasional toke in peace while we concentrate on criminals who pose a threat.
Jindal proposes more drug courts, where offenders are given probation and may qualify to have their records expunged. The recidivism rate in such courts, of which we currently have 48, is 3.2 percent, whereas drug offenders sent to prison are 10 times more likely to be convicted again. Statistics don’t get less surprising than that.