By Natasha Robin | February 5, 2019 at 5:41 PM CST – Updated February 5 at 5:42 PM
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – In a ballroom filled with state, federal and local leaders, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro didn’t mince words about what he calls ill-conceived police decisions and social experiments.
“We have a crime problem. We do not have an incarceration problem, and the notion that our jails are packed with low-level offenders and unlucky drug possession arrestees is a complete falsehood,” Cannizzaro said.
Cannizzaro was critical of a city initiative to reduce the jail population. He said magistrate judges and commissioners are being pushed to increase the use of RORs or free bonds and to set low cash bonds, creating what he calls a revolving door at Criminal District Court.
“City officials won’t come out and say it, but they are experimenting on us as a society to determine how much more violent crime we are willing to tolerate to enable them to boast a lower incarceration,” Cannizzaro said.
“Change is hard for people, and I’m not surprised that some folks like the way we did it 10 yeas ago, and 20 years ago. They’re used to it. I think the city deserves new policies,” said Councilman Jason Williams.
Williams said judges use their own discretion in every case.
“I’m not going to get involved in how they set those bonds. They know what we are up against as a city, and we have to rely on their judgment,” Williams said.
“I absolutely want to see fewer people locked up in New Orleans and throughout our state, but we must get there because people are committing fewer crimes, not because of some grand social experiment espoused by sheltered academic and naive politicians,” Cannizzaro said.
“Nobody is singing the praises of what we’ve done to create efficiencies so that low-level, non-violent offenders aren’t staying in jail. We are reserving jail for those folks who have hurt people,” Williams said.
Cannizzaro, though, pointed to examples of violent offenders he said hurt others after being released on what he considers low bond.
He said violent juveniles are also a problem, and he believes they’re the city’s biggest crime issue.
“We have seen armed robberies in the past year featuring gunmen as young as 12 years old. Just two weeks ago, State Police arrested two 13-year-old burglary suspects roaming the Warehouse District with a loaded gun,” he said.
Cannizzaro told the crowd at the Metropolitan Crime Commission luncheon that more focus needs to be on education, job training and substance abuse centers.