Newell: Juvenile crime crisis could be defining moment for New Orleans

Newell Normand
February 17, 2020 - 3:09 pm

Give a passing glance at New Orleans news over the last ten days and you can’t help but notice there’s been some development in the wave of vehicle burglaries, as police arrest multiple chronic offenders, many of whom are teens and even pre-teens. Some are blaming parents, some are blaming law enforcement officers, some are blaming the courts. Where does responsibility ultimately lie, and how do we get corrective measures into place in order to protect our community and get these kids back on the right path? Newell invited Juvenile Judge Mark Doherty onto the program Monday afternoon to discuss.

“Judge, you were on here a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about intermediate sanctions,” Newell began. “I know the Mayor made some observations about the court under-utilizing some of the sanctions available… it struck me that a lot of times, it’s not the right program for the right juvenile, and it’s not at the right time, right?”

“Exactly,” Judge Doherty said. “Whether there’s a vacancy available, or we have a waiting list, or a kid who is in the program needs more help and needs to stay in a little longer - the availability  fluctuates. As with everything that comes through juvenile court, it’s unpredictable. You never know if there’s going to be a slew of arrests, or a hiatus. You can’t just pick any one day and say that’s the whole story.”

“When I was in office, this is a conversation we would have with the judges behind closed doors,” Newell said. “I just don’t understand why we would want to bring this to the forefront and argue about it there. We can disagree, but there’s no upside to doing all this in the open air. We can settle the differences behind closed doors and scream and beat on the desk, knowing that we’re keeping the greater good in mind.”

“Ultimately, all of us are elected officials and we must be held accountable to the public, and we owe them an explanation for what we do and why we do it so they can make an informed decision about whether or not we’re doing a good job,” Doherty said.

“There’s been a lot of light shining on this issue, but I know you can’t talk about this case with the 11-year-old because this is in your section of court while the parents are going to municipal court - but I will ask you, from a structural standpoint, wouldn’t it be more expedient if you had jurisdiction over the parents instead of two courts dealing with this one situation?” Newell asked.

“I certainly think so!” Doherty answered. “That’s not what the children’s code says, that’s not what the legislature has provided - but I think it’s inefficient for public resources and judges to basically be running competing courts. When it comes to sentencing the kids, putting the kid on probation or in some kind of program, I have jurisdiction over the parent in order to say, ‘you have to enforce the curfew, keep me informed about their going to school.’ But in this case, NOPD rightfully issued a summons to these parents for failure to supervise a child under a state statute - that’s a separate legal charge where I have no jurisdiction. It’s unfortunate.”

“In many respects, this could be a defining moment for the city and the juvenile justice system,” Newell said. “We have a lot of really good short-term things happening, but taking those successes with us into the long term is hard, it’s challenging.”

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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