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Monday, July 24, 2017

Youth who commit misdemeanors could receive warnings or summonses under proposed ordinance

Posted By on Mon, Jul 24, 2017 at 5:45 PM

New Orleans youth who commit misdemeanor offenses could receive warnings or summonses to appear in court with a guardian, under a proposed ordinance aimed at preventing young people from entering, and often re-entering, the criminal justice system after an arrest.

The ordinance was supported by the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee July 24, and it also has the support of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges and, for the most part, Mayor Mitch Landrieu. It now heads to the full City Council for approval.

Committee chair and District A Councilmember Susan Guidry said "police have no alternative but to handcuff the child [who commits minor offenses]. I mean that is a serious, traumatic event.”

Under the ordinance, youth who have committed a status offense (truancy, running away, displaying "ungovernable behavior") would receive a juvenile warning notice (JWN). Police also would write JWNs or issue summonses for 11 types of misdemeanor crimes — including simple assault and simple possession of marijuana, misdemeanor theft, criminal mischief and criminal trespassing — at the officers' discretion.

Officers could issue summonses if the person is engaged in a misdemeanor delinquent office other than those 11 named offenses, or engaged in one of 11 offenses and has been arrested or received a JWN within the past year, or has a warrant for failure to appear for a previous offense, or was engaged in a traffic violation the officer deems is inappropriate for a JWN.

The officer may make an arrest if they can't find a parent or guardian, if the guardian doesn't have sufficient ID or refuses the summons, or if the juvenile offender is violent or intends to harm themselves, others or property. The officer also may arrest "habitual offenders" suspected of committing a misdemeanor or if the officer deems it “absolutely necessary” to make an arrest.

Advocates supporting the measure argue it could drastically change the racial disparity in the arrests made for misdemeanor juvenile offenses. According to Juvenile Court Chief Justice Candice Bates-Anderson, 96 percent of all juveniles processed in court in 2016 were African-American.

Of those misdemeanor arrests in 2016, 28 percent would be eligible for summonses or warnings. Forty-one percent of charges were for simple battery, 17 percent for simple marijuana possession, and 12 percent for theft.

Fourteen percent of all cases were for school-based offenses — misdemeanors that occurred during school hours on school grounds that could've otherwise been handled by the school rather than entering the court.

More than half of those school-based cases would’ve been eligible for a warning or summons, and 65 percent of those youth were first-time offenders.

Advocates urged for the city to adopt more youth diversion programs to prevent children from entering juvenile detention centers and into community-based programming.

Aaron Clark-Rizzio, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, said "the burden of the system, the cost of the system, is almost exclusively on them."

The ordinance follows Landrieu's 2014 application for a grant from the National League of Cities aimed at improving racial and ethnic disparities and helping youth return to communities following incarceration. "Coming in contact with the judicial system often increases chances of reoffending," said Rachel Gassert with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.

The ordinance also would call for the New Orleans Police Department to track those warnings and summonses and file quarterly reports detailing their circumstances. Paul Harang, Landrieu's Director of City Council Relation, said the administration agrees "with the goal," but tracking those stops is "not something NOPD does currently."

"We’re at the end of 2017,"  Bates-Anderson said. "Hopefully somebody is realizing how important this is. If we count the number of children who we have lost from 2014 to 2017, who elected not to return to school after they’re arrested for a school-based offense, who elected not to have faith or trust the criminal justice system, and who also lost faith in the courts … Let’s really take action and get this done."

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