Faced with a troubling spike in juvenile crime in New Orleans, city officials and judges announced plans Wednesday to detain all young people who commit serious crimes and a summer jobs program for youths who have been arrested.
The new strategies come on top of promised police enforcement of the city’s annual summer curfew, set to go into effect Saturday, and existing summer programs run by agencies like the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission and the New Orleans Public Library.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell praised the plans as a step in the right direction. She said the Juvenile Court’s plan will allow judges to more often use their discretion in determining when to release juvenile offenders, rather than depending on the screening tool that is primarily used to make those decisions now.
“I believe you need many tools in a toolbox to address crime across the board,” Cantrell said. “We have seen previously incidents (where) our residents (lost) their lives … and we have to be as proactive as possible.”
A fatal shooting Wednesday night following an alleged car break-in in Mid-City has fanned the flames over whether New Orleans officials are do…
That was apparently a reference to, among others, a 17-year-old who is accused of fatally shooting a woman and wounding her husband after he tried to break into their car in Mid-City earlier this month.
However, the city's moves were panned by some child advocates as having the potential to do more harm than good. The city should instead invest in programs that provide an alternative to juvenile detention, said Aaron Clark-Rizzio of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.
“We already have a tool to determine whether a child poses a risk to public safety,” he said. “If the court wants to disregard this tool, then we will overcrowd our juvenile detention centers.”
He added that enforcing a curfew will do nothing to curb juvenile crime and could in fact lead to excessive targeting of black children, which could erode those children’s relationships with the police.
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Juvenile arrests have grown over the last three years, according to data the Police Department provided to WWL-TV. There were 786 juvenile arrests in 2016, 965 in 2017 and 1,232 in 2018.
Preliminary data, however, suggest that youth crime might be down in 2019. Police identified 756 youthful suspects in electronic crime reports through May 16, compared to 1,247 over the same period last year, according to a New Orleans Advocate analysis.
The Cantrell administration's plan to open the kind of alternative to detention that Clark-Rizzio recommends was upended last week, when the city’s partner organization pulled out.
Cantrell’s team had said for months that a new “evening reporting center” could provide the kind of mentoring and homework help that would help young people headed down the wrong path change course. The City Council agreed to fund the project, and the administration found a group to run it, the Youth Empowerment Project.
A spike in juvenile crime and vehicle break-ins came to a head in New Orleans this week after police say a 17-year-old fatally shot a woman wh…
But YEP Executive Director Melissa Sawyer said in a May 20 letter to the city that her organization could no longer be part of the deal, citing community opposition and a lack of clarity about just who the center would serve.
Cantrell said Wednesday that plans for the center are still alive and that the city is working to find a partner to run it, potentially at multiple sites through the city.
In the meantime, the city is partnering with Covenant House as the Police Department enforces summer curfews. The organization's building will double as a curfew center this summer, housing any young person picked up after the city’s curfew hours, which are from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday everywhere except the French Quarter.
In the Quarter, young people may not wander the streets between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., a rule that is in place year-round.
Kids picked up can “come to Covenant House, get a snack, and watch television,” said Covenant House director Jim Kelly. “This is all of us working together, because we are not going to arrest our way out of this.”
A teenager shot and killed a 63-year-old woman and wounded her 54-year-old husband after they caught him breaking into their car late Wednesda…
Cantrell’s Office of Youth and Families, meanwhile, is offering paid summer jobs to 100 young people who have been arrested within the past 18 months. NORDC is continuing to offer summer jobs and camps for young people. And the Public Library is offering its annual summer reading program, officials said.
In announcing their policy change Wednesday, the Juvenile Court judges conceded that “detention is not the solution,” and that “pro-social community-based activities” and mentoring programs also help keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.
They said they would use their discretion in deciding whether to detain offenders who could pose a risk to public safety. That's in addition to a screening process that uses a series of questions to decide if an offender is likely to commit another crime if released.
Editor's note: This story was changed May 31 to clarify that the juvenile arrest figures included all arrests, not just felony arrests.