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Getting caught with drugs doesn't guarantee prison anymore - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

A drug charge doesn't guarantee prison anymore

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It was announced this past week that the U.S. Justice Department will no longer seek mandatory prison sentences for non-violent and low-level drug offenders. Instead, these federal offenders will be sentenced to rehabilitative services to kick their addictions. It's a move to ease prison overcrowding, and a similar policy has been in place in Louisiana through drug court programs. In fact, local officials claim the decrease in the Caddo Correctional Center's inmate population is due to such programs.

"I don't think jail is the answer in order to get these people off drugs," Judge Craig Marcotte said. He oversees the First Judicial District Drug Court Program. The program keeps certain drug offenders from entering the CCC, saving money and space.

"We got this person that otherwise, according to our laws, be incarcerated because they have so many felonies," Marcotte said, describing an eligible offender. "They're a drug offender, no violent crimes. They don't have any theft charges. They don't have any battery charges. They've got a drug addiction."

Marcotte says instead of throwing such offenders into jail, where they'll be a burden to taxpayers and lead to overcrowding and ultimately not get much help for their addiction, he enters them into the drug court program. Offenders receive rigorous rehabilitative services for usually two years. Marcotte says the number of drug offenders eligible for the program has increased in recent years, with some repeat offenders, but believes the program can help offenders get clean.

"I've got one graduate in Centenary College," he said. "I've got another one that's graduating from LSUS. Some of them have been on drugs since they were 12 years old."

Marcotte says Caddo Sheriff Deputies have also made changes to keep drug offenders from clogging the CCC. Often first time drug offenders are given a summons to court.

"In other words, writing a ticket," Marcotte said. "It says you have to be in court on this date. Instead of saying, I'm taking you to jail. You have to bond out of jail."

Such drug court programs have been in Louisiana since the 1990s. Currently, 29 courts are active around the state today.

From 1997 to 2012 more than 6,000 adults have graduated from Louisiana drug court programs. Last year, nearly 58 percent entered into the adult program were Caucasian, 40 percent were African Americans. The state's supreme court grants $285,000 Caddo's program a year.

 

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