Newell: Youth crime is a solvable problem, but politicians need to do the hard work

Newell Normand
January 23, 2020 - 3:41 pm

What should happen to juveniles who are caught committing a non-violent crime like attempted vehicle burglary? Should the city make a bigger investment in crime cameras, electronic monitoring and license plate readers? There were some of the questions that were put to panelists by nearly a thousand residents at the Lakeview crime summit earlier this week. That panel included Orleans Parish Juvenile Judge Mark Doherty, who joined Newell in studio Thursday morning to share his takeaways from the summit.

“You were very, very frank at the meeting,” Newell began. “It was very refreshing, a lot of people I talked to after the meeting were talking about you. You seemed to cut right to the chase, get right to the issue and say, we got challenges and here they are.”

“The challenges are formidable, and they’re clear to us,” Doherty said. “The first one being that we don’t have an electronic monitoring device program for juveniles. We used to but we don’t have it now; it's a funding issue and it’s also an organizational issue. We don’t have pretrial services here, and by that I mean services that offer supervision for youth who are on house arrest, curfew compliance, school attendance, basic medical checkups like eyesight, hearing, dental… a lot of our young people haven’t had any of that. Pretrial services aso include psychological evaluations, educational assessments, disabilities that may need ot be addressed. In addition to that, we need a boot camp, we need group homes, we need post-trial services to help the youth and family stay on track. We don’t have those tools, and until we get them, I don’t know if things will change.”

“When I hear that, that’s what I call ‘the what.’ That’s the outcome. Why do we have that?” Newell continued. “Is this just a function of a lack of prioritization and credible leadership? Because the Judges have to be apolitical, it’s difficult under ethics rules for y’all to be lobbying people and pandering, bartering for money and finances. Where is the breakdown here?”

“Juvenile justice seems to be in a cyclical pattern,” Doherty said. “I’ve been on the bench almost 21 years now. We go through eras of reform where a lot of attention and resources are focused on the problem and we make progress. Then there’s economic and political changes, and we lose focus and other funding priorities take over, and services that were in place, like electronic monitoring devices, get cut or discontinued. We’re in one of the troughs in that cyclical pattern right now and we don’t have all the tools we need.”

“Obviously, this is not a situation that was created by the Cantrell administration - this has to be the remnants then, of the Landrieu and Nagin administrations?” Newell asked.

“This is post-Katrina New Orleans,” Doherty answered. “This is where we’ve wound up.”

“Electronic monitoring has been proven over and over and over again as a facilitative tool and viable alternative to incarceration,” Newell said. “It’s not rocket science, it’s fairly straightforward. There are a number of private-sector providers who have been incredibly successful across the country, so it’s easy to say that is just about funding.”

“Funding, and recognizing - what is the goal with electronic monitoring? As you said, it’s an alternative to incarceration. You can’t actually detain everybody. You have to have some method of monitoring and supervising kids without having them at a juvenile detention center. Have them at home, where they can still go to school. But the key is supervision and monitoring to know they’re staying on track, and the easiest way to do that is a monitoring device. It has the added value of letting the youth and their family know, there is accountability here. It’s not just catch-and-release.”

“About those peaks and valleys that we go through with crime,” Newell concluded, “When you have a solid, systematic approach to fighting youth crime, the steepness and the falls can be ameliorated. We can’t eliminate it, but we can make the ride a lot less rocky.”

Listen to the entire interview in the audio player below.

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