NEW ORLEANS —
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, on Tuesday, identified violent juvenile offenders as New Orleans’ biggest local crime issue for 2019.
Cannizzaro noted that the city’s 735 new juvenile felony cases in 2018 nearly exceeded the totals of 2016 and 2017 combined (776). The million-dollar question is: Why? What caused the numbers to rise so drastically in 2018?
Cannizzaro argued some city leaders and the New Orleans Police Department play some role.
“Juvenile judges have faced greater pressure from some city leaders over the past three years to reduce detention population at the Youth Study Center. And a steep decline in the NOPD’s status arrests — early interventions for youth truancy and curfew violations — has preceded the sharp rise in juvenile felony offenses.”
However, WDSU wanted to go beyond the political blame game, to talk to real New Orleanians about the issues and what they think needs to be done to fix those issues.
“There were kids between 7 and 10 years old and they were saying they wanted to grow up and be killers instead of lawyers or doctors,” said Jarrett Lee, who grew up in New Orleans and spent time in the justice system himself. “That’s why you have all these young kids killin’ and being misguided, because they wasn’t raised up and trained properly.”
Former Assistant District Attorney Alvin Johnson said we need to get to the source of the problem.
“You can’t solve a problem by going to the end of the problem,” Johnson, now an attorney who often represents juvenile offenders said. “You have to go to the root of the problem and I think the root of it is a poor family structure and lack of an education.”
Johnson said there are several programs that aim to help offenders reintegrate back into society after serving a sentence. However, he argued there must be more programs now, today, to help kids and their families before they get caught up in the system.
“I’m not aware of any programs that actually focus on parenting,” Johnson said. And of the ones that do exist, “I just don’t think we use enough of them in the juvenile and adult court system to be honest with you,” Johnson said.
Programs like that could have been utilized to help Lee, who had several run-ins with the law growing up. But now, he says he’s turned his life around.
“I’ve had a harsh past. I’ve did all those things. I was part of the system. It’s never too late to make a comeback. It’s never too late.”
But it can certainly be harder, Lee argued, the longer people are incarcerated.
The D.A.’s office did not specify how many of the 735 new juvenile felony cases were violent in nature. A felony can include everything from theft to murder.
However, a city spokesperson said the primary increase in juvenile arrests in 2018 was due to an increase in car burglaries – which is not a violent offense.
“The City supports rehabilitation — in the least restrictive environment –for young offenders . For nonviolent offenses in particular, this means they should be at home with their families receiving support. We are intentional about giving our juveniles the support they need to make better choices and seeking alternatives to detention where appropriate.”
The New Orleans Police Department also responded to the D.A.’s allegations that there have been a lack of “status arrests” – early interventions for youth truancy and curfew violations.
“NOPD will continue carrying out its duty to arrest both juvenile and adult offenders based on sufficient evidence to prove the commission of a crime. Once an offender is arrested and enters the judicial system, those cases are matters for the court,” a department spokesperson said.