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Louisiana's heroin problem: Mandatory minimums are not the answer

The United States is in the midst of a health epidemic. The number of heroin overdose deaths has skyrocketed in recent years, including here in Louisiana. Drug abuse generally has been a nationwide problem for more than a half-century, and it has become clear to many Americans that it is not a problem that can be solved with aggressive prosecution and lengthy prison sentences. As such, dozens of states are relaxing drug laws and focusing on chemical dependency treatment rather than incarceration for non-violent offenders.

Sadly, Louisiana is headed in the opposite direction. Recently, the state House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of two years for possession of heroin. The likely result will be an even larger prison population in the state that already has the highest incarceration rate in America.

If the goal is to reduce heroin use and related overdose deaths, mandatory minimums are not the way to go. State and federal lawmakers have been enacting mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders for decades. These laws have done almost nothing to reduce rates of drug abuse. Instead, these laws have swelled incarceration rates by sending non-violent drug offenders to jail or prison, sometimes for decades.

Critics of Louisiana’s recent legislative actions have suggested that the push for mandatory minimums could be financially motivated. A news story from National Public Radio discusses the fact that non-violent drug offenders are often housed in parish jails. Every inmate in these jails means more state money for sheriffs, which is perhaps why the Sheriff’s Association has lobbied for mandatory minimums.

Louisiana legislators, politicians and law enforcement agencies continue to push for laws and strategies that are being dismissed as ineffective and inhumane by the rest of the country. If history provides precedent (and it usually does), Louisiana’s heroin problem could actually get worse rather than better.

Source: Opposing Views, "Louisiana House Passes Bill To Get Tough On Heroin Dealers, Addicts," Jared Keever, April 4, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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