Newell: Progressive justice reformers got what they wanted and it blew up in their face

In Juvenile Justice Center riot incident, the dog appears to have finally caught the car

Newell Normand
August 19, 2019 - 5:18 pm

What exactly happened at New Orleans' Juvenile Justice Center last week? 

Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she rushed to the center and "beat the negotiators to the scene,” after an initial police radio call stated there were seven youths armed with knives at the Intervention Center. She said three of the inmates had locked themselves inside a cell and caused a "disruption,” but police were able to restore order without any violence.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's description of events tells a different story. He said police sources told him there had absolutely been a riot. "The disturbance was dangerous and out of control, and not quickly quelled,” Cannizzaro said in a press statement. So where's the truth? Newell invited Cannizzaro onto his program Monday morning to explain.

"This whole approach as it relates to juvenile justice being therapeutic, being trauma-informed and all of those issues by those who are progressive - this lack of accountability - seems to run central to this. Two inmates at the Juvenile Justice Center, you're asked to move them to adult court. To me, the timing seems very, very suspicious. Did they cry 'uncle?'"

"I don't know about that," the DA replied, "but we certainly did get a call after this event Thursday evening, in which the police, in their reports, describe a riot situation where as many as seven inmates armed themselves with knives, threatened to kill correctional officers and other inmates. The thing lasted about four hours and the correctional officials in charge of the JJC were not able to control it, so they called the police department to come in, and they ultimately had to bring in their SWAT team to assist in trying to stop this thing... this was a very sad set of circumstances."

What of the two inmates transferred to adult court? What prompted that? 

"I want to credit the Mayor and I thank her very much, she did come out and say there was a request by someone in the Mayor's office that we transfer at least two of the individuals involved in this event to the adult jail to wait for the disposition of their charge. One of them is charged with second-degree murder, he was transferred on Friday. The other one, we're awaiting the judge who was unavailable Friday. He's charged with an armed robbery and we're waiting for the judge to come in and hear that case so that he can hopefully also be transferred to the adult facility."

Newell then pressed Cannizzaro about the rather profound disparities in the reporting of the incident. "When I look at this and I see there are two vastly different stories being told - one that is presented in court by your assistants, trying to accommodate an administration request that came straight out of police reports, and then management of the Office of Youth and Families and this facility seem to be downplaying the severity of this whole thing.  Is this just about trying to support this policy directive they had?  About making this hard push for 17 year olds to stay in juvenile facilities?"

"I think there are some in city government, especially certain members of our City Council, who do not want to see, in any circumstances, juveniles transferred to the adult jail for detention, or to the adult court for prosecution. I think to some extent there is resistance on the part of some that we are going to try to make this work.  Unfortunately, it has not worked. We are seeing that the juvenile detention center is not large enough to hold the number of people coming into the system and the big misunderstanding is that if you transfer a juvenile to the adult jail, they're going to be mixed up with the older, more violent offenders.  That's just not the situation. The Sheriff has done a very good job, I understand he has a facility in the Orleans Justice Center where they have space for 60 juveniles and they can provide many of the same services they provide at the juvenile center.  It makes good sense to transfer some of the more violent, dangerous individuals. We're talking about the murderers, rapists, armed robbers - people involved in violent and vicious crimes.  We are trying to separate them from individuals that don't have as serious a history."

Concluding, Newell excoriated those who are pushing for progressive change in the juvenile justice system, but seem to have not taken into consideration what their new responsibilities would be on the way to achieving those changes.

"When you look around the country," Newell finished, "These issues tend to repeat themselves, and we are playing with these progressive policies from progressive DA's who really want to be social activists rather than do the blocking and tackling of prosecutions...we're not gonna charge people for this, we're not gonna charge people for that. These are the same folks who have wanted the elimination of juvenile offenders being treated in the adult system. If that's what you desire, you should make sure you have everything in place prior to achieving that goal.  And, the thing I find most disturbing in all of this is that they're saying there's a gap, there's no crisis intervention team on site at that facility. Are you kidding me? This is what you have been fighting for, safety and security in the best interest of the juveniles! But that's not what's happening."

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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