Louisiana holds the title of highest incarceration rate in the United States, with 816 prisoners for every 100,000 residents. According to an article in the New Orleans Advocate, a new report from state Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office has calculated the cost of maintaining that title, and it is not cheap.

Being Tough On Low Level Drug Offenders Is Expensive

One of the biggest reasons for the state’s title-holding incarceration rate is its tough stance on low level drug offenders and other nonviolent offenders. Among newly sentenced prisoners, drug possession is the most common crime. Nonviolent offenses account for the 10 most common reasons for prison admission.

Purpera’s report suggests that the state could save $70 million by taking all offenders whose criminal histories are limited to drug possession and sending them to drug court instead. The state could save $100 million by changing mandatory minimum sentencing laws to allow judges to sentence people convicted of drug offenses to probation, rather than sending them to prison.

Is Change Coming?

Clearly, putting people behind bars when they have made a mistake or fallen prey to addiction is proving costly, and the governor has taken notice. John Bel Edwards prioritized reducing incarceration levels last year during his campaign. The legislature has created a task force to pursue reforms.

Unfortunately, for individuals accused of drug possession and other minor drug offenses, change may not come soon enough. It is crucial that these people seek representation from an experienced criminal defense lawyer, one who is well-versed in drug crime defense strategies and familiar with drug court and other options. Attorney Craig E. Gibbs has more than two decades of experience in these matters.