Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a bipartisan plan Friday to expand Louisiana’s drug courts, revamp prison sentencing laws and refocus a key juvenile justice program to aid trouble-prone youngsters.

“These proposals will help at-risk youth on the front end to stay on the right track,” Jindal told reporters.

Several lawmakers, who often differ with Jindal, praised his proposals, including state Rep. Patricia Smith and state Sen. Sharon Broome, both Baton Rouge Democrats.

“I want to thank the governor for putting treatment as a priority,” Smith said.

Others who endorsed the changes included Debra DePrato, director at the Institute for Public Health and Justice at the LSU Health Sciences Center, and Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project.

The plans will be included in bills submitted to the Legislature, which begins its regular session on April 8.

Jindal wants to:

  • Expand what he called Louisiana’s highly successful drug courts beyond the current 48 programs statewide.
  • Release certain non-sex, non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than continued incarceration.
  • Revamp a state program that he said has strayed from its mission of aiding at-risk youths.

Louisiana has grappled with juvenile justice issues for years, and Jindal noted that the state locks up a larger proportion of drug and non-violent criminals than the national average.

In addition, the state sentences non-violent offenders to longer sentences that the rest of the country, which has helped spark one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world.

Jindal said the state spends $12.5 million for 500 drug-related offenders with a five-year sentence and a recidivism rate — those who return to jail — of 30 percent.

But the governor said the recidivism rate for those who finish drug court, which includes probation and heavy supervision, is just 3.2 percent.

The proposal would expand access to those courts, and would continue to be aimed at non-violent, non-sex and non-habitual offenders whose crime stems from their addiction.

The new rules would apply to offenders convicted of possession or possession with intent to distribute under $500 and who meet other conditions.

“Research shows that these offenders are not a threat to public safety when their addition is treated successfully,” Jindal said.

Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the focus on drug offenders makes sense. “Drugs are our number one enemy when it comes to crime,” he said.

In another area, Jindal said he will push legislation that would allow for the early release of some first and second-offense drug offenders.

He said it makes more sense for them to get drug treatment that to remain behind bars.

The change would apply to non-sex, non-violent first- and second-time offenders serving time for possession or possession with intent to distribute, he said.

Eligibility would apply to those who, on July 1, would have served at least two years of their sentence and are scheduled for release within one year.

They would also have to meet other conditions, including having a plan for community-based chemical dependency treatment.

In a third area, Jindal said changes in another program — Families in Need of Services — will help keep troubled children from entering the juvenile justice system, where they are three times more likely to enter adult prisons later.