Filed Under:  Local

City Council mulls ordinance to help young offenders

31st July 2017   ·   0 Comments

With the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana commonly referred to as the “mass incarceration capital” and the “prison capital” respectively, a number of efforts on the state and local level have been underway as a means of reducing the state’s prison population and creating more opportunities for young people, including those who have strayed from the straight and narrow path.

For years, local elected officials, judicial leaders and justice advocates have been talking about finding a way to positively impact the lives of young offenders and creating a safety net to catch them before they continue on a downward spiral that leads to acts of violence, incarceration or death.

Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Candice Bates-Anderson sees children and teenagers come and go through her court room.

“Last year we saw roughly 755 youth that came through our intake center,” Judge Bates-Anderson, the Chief Judge of Juvenile Court in New Orleans, told WWL News.

Bates-Anderson said that about 28 percent of those at the center get arrested for school-based offenses.

“These are the types of crimes that are a misdemeanor. Crimes that are not violent. Crimes that are not a threat to public safety,” Judge Bates-Anderson explained.

Bates-Anderson and others like New Orleans City Councilmember Susan Guidry are working on changing that. A new ordinance called “The Policing Alternatives for Youth Pay” is in the works. It gives those under the age of 21 a warning or summons instead of locking them up for minor offenses.

The ordinance passed unanimously in the criminal justice committee. It will now make its way to the full council for a vote.

The proposed ordinance states that juvenile’s parent or guardian would receive a written notice, having the child or teen appear in court.

“Disturbing the peace, possession of marijuana, criminal trespasses, criminal damage to property. These are at the misdemeanor level only,” Guidry said.

But will this alternative work?

Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights believes it will. According to the center, research shows that the more time juveniles spend in a locked-down environment, the more likely they are to repeat those offenses. Supporters say the ordinance gives children and teenagers a better alternative.

“You’re not reading in the newspaper about these types of crimes. The crimes you’re reading in the newspaper, aren’t applicable in this ordinance,” Guidry, who chairs the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, told WWL.

“These are opportunities to give these kids a chance to realize, ‘I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, I can get involved in a community-based effort. I won’t be detained. I won’t be placed in handcuffs.’ And we could have a much better and positive impact on them,” Bates-Anderson said.

The Landrieu administration reportedly wants to be clear on how the ordinance will impact the community and efforts to improve public safety before weighing in on the issue.

Guidry said that a vote on the ordinance by the full council could take place as soon as Aug. 10.

This article originally published in the July 31, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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