District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s recent letter to the editor in The New Orleans Advocate cited James Gill’s article “Cannizzaro, Guidry, tangle on juvenile detention.” It seems Mr. Cannizzaro may not have read to the end of Mr. Gill’s article, which concludes: “Nobody doubts that some criminals are too dangerous to release at 21. But it also seems clear that plenty more are being transferred to adult court when the juvenile system would have served them, and us, better. This could all be resolved with a little goodwill, but we need to work on that.”
Mr. Gill is correct on this. In fact, all the evidence I have seen shows that putting children through the adult system creates criminals and costs taxpayers; it neither prevents crime nor protects victims.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report blasting Mr. Cannizzaro for prosecuting children as adults in shockingly large numbers. For months I had been trying to work with the district attorney to address this harmful practice. Without his cooperation, I felt obliged to hold a hearing and introduce a resolution asking Mr. Cannizzaro to simply screen the youth he seeks to transfer and to report to the City Council on data regarding these transfers. The hearing gathered more than a dozen local, state and national criminal justice experts who offered more than four hours of testimony supporting my resolution and condemning Mr. Cannizzaro’s practices.
Mr. Cannizzaro, who declined to participate in the hearing, began an unproductive political war against me. Instead of addressing the problems that the experts presented, he clouded the issue with inflammatory and misleading statements. He challenged me to provide a list of cases he handled wrongly when he knows I can’t access the pertinent confidential information. He also challenged the data that puts his youth transfer rate at 80 percent, citing the majority of the cases deal with murder and rape. He knows state law demands those cases be automatically transferred, and excluding those cases, his youth transfer rate is still some 80 percent.
Nonetheless, the bottom line is juveniles are being transferred to adult court when they should not be.
Every day I hear from constituents who are fed up with crime. I am, too. It’s clear to me, though, that what we as a city have been doing is not working. That’s why I am committed to reforming the criminal justice system.
Mr. Cannizzaro and I both want to end the crime epidemic, and I appreciate his zeal. By all accounts, though, he is wrong on this matter. I hope he will work with me in the spirit of a “little goodwill” and adopt a more stringent screening process.
chairwoman, New Orleans City Council Criminal Justice Committee