Councilmember Jason Williams: DA Cannizzaro’s Juvenile Crime Proposal “Misses the Mark”

Last week, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro unveiled a plan to combat New Orleans’ juvenile crime problem. Among other points, Cannizzaro’s plan focused on encouraging judges to hand out tougher sentences to repeat offenders.

However, the city’s 40-bed Youth Study Center is already facing an overcrowding problem. This spring, city officials have asked judges to order that some teens be transferred to the Orleans Justice Center.

Other suggestions brought up by Cannizzaro include ending the NOPD’s federal consent decree, stronger enforcement of truancy and curfew ordinances, and a demand from city leaders that parents provide more supervision and engagement over their children.

Councilmember-at-large Jason Williams issued a statement addressing Cannizaro’s proposal, saying, “[Cannizzaro’s] proposal to arrest and detain all juvenile curfew violations misses the mark. It assumes our options for intervention are as limited as they were twenty years ago. This is simply not the case according to the data produced around youth development, trauma, and the effects of incarceration on the greater community.”

Aaron Clark-Rizzio, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, the public defenders for children in juvenile court agrees, saying that Cannizzaro’s proposal won’t help to reduce youth crime.

“All it does is call for more of the same – more policing and more incarceration of black children and their families,” Clark-Rizzio said. “Clearly this approach hasn’t made us safer, so why does the DA keep insisting on it? We need to invest our resources in solutions that will actually help our young people and make our community safe.”

According to Williams, the city council has been working with the Cantrell administration and New Orleans Police Department superintendent Shaun Ferguson to create a youth intervention strategy that focuses on existing youth resources and developing new programming for at-risk youth.

“Together we have been aggressively working on protocols for city-wide curfew and a deployment of strategic electronic monitoring with improved and direct NOPD administration,” Williams said. “We have to be particularly focused on making sure this next deployment of electronic monitoring is in fact supported with up to the minute, real-time, and continuous monitoring of the locations of system involved youth. If employed thoughtfully, this strategic electronic monitoring initiative can be used for repeat curfew violators, enabling us to use geo-locating technology so that we know when repeat offenders are out after hours.”

Williams also acknowledged the issues that can come with increased electronic monitoring, stating that the program “has to be rolled out in a thoughtful way with sufficient safeguards to avoid issues of inequity and the potential abuses highlighted in the Court Watch NOLA report.”

Williams ended with this thought: “Attacking our juvenile and district court judges, the New Orleans Police Department, City Hall, Federal Judge Morgan, the Department of Justice, and the Consent Decree Monitors is not a recipe for success. Our safety and our children are too important to be narrow-minded and siloed.”

You can view his full statement here.

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