Contact: Ken Daley, Public Information
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro on Tuesday (Feb. 5) identified violent juvenile offenders as New Orleans’ biggest local crime issue for 2019.
“Our quality of life in New Orleans is being deeply affected by the scourge of juvenile crime,” Cannizzaro said in his keynote address at the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s annual awards luncheon. “The bill is coming due for this city’s refusal to support meaningful consequences in Juvenile Court that would incentivize the rehabilitation of young offenders.”
Cannizzaro noted that the city’s 735 new juvenile felony cases in 2018 nearly exceeded the totals of 2016 and 2017 combined (776). 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.
“Ask virtually any police officer patrolling any district in the city, and you will hear one of their biggest frustrations comes from arresting the same groups of teen offenders over and over and over again,” Cannizzaro said. “The revolving door we complain about at the adult jail has nothing on the cartoonish speed of the one spinning at Juvenile Court.”
Cannizzaro addressed other topics in his speech, including:
- New Orleans’ 146 murders in 2018, the city’s lowest total since 1971: “Quite frankly, this city does not see such a decline in murders without my office successfully convicting more than 650 New Orleans killers over the past 10 years.”
- The OPDA’s Diversion program, which has a felony recidivism rate of less than 1 percent for those who complete the program: “I am tremendously proud of our Diversion program, and we are working to expand its scope in 2019.”
- The OPDA accepted 6,841 cases in 2018 — its fewest in the past six years — and had a felony conviction rate of 92.8 percent last year: “A strong indication that the right felony defendants are being caught, being tried and being convicted.”
Cannizzaro also addressed the myth of over-incarceration in New Orleans. The Orleans Justice Center jail held 1,222 inmates two weeks ago — one-third of the 3,600 housed in May 2010 — and just 8 of those individuals were jailed for a probation violation, nonviolent misdemeanor or for running afoul of a city ordinance.
“The remainder of that population overwhelmingly consists of violent offenders, and 80 percent of them were repeat arrestees,” he said. “This is who we will be letting out next, if the push to reduce the jail population continues unabated. City officials … are experimenting on us, as a society, to determine how much more violent crime we are willing to tolerate to enable them to boast of lower incarceration.”
The DA said he also wants to see fewer people jailed in New Orleans and throughout the state. But he said we must get there because fewer people are committing crimes, not because of a social experiment to fling open cell doors without rehabilitation and re-entry programs in place.
“New Orleans can and should be a city of big ideas,” Cannizzaro said, “but we can’t afford to be a city of big mistakes. Because when big mistakes are made in criminal justice, real people suffer.”
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