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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Caddo Parish leads the state in number of juvenile Cases

Number of new cases may shake system as 17-year-olds move out of adult system


Number of new cases may shake system as 17-year-olds move out of adult system

The problems start because they are young, traumatized and very mad. They may be bullies or the bullied.

They hate school, but dread going home. They start fighting, cutting class, running away or committing crimes. They become truants or disciplinary problems for the school system and eventually, if not successfully turned around, for society through the school-toprison pipeline.

“The significant majority are living with a single mother or grandmother, a few stepfathers and very few fathers. This is a child that has been good at nothing,” said Clay Walker, director of Juvenile Services for Caddo Parish. The typical child that enters the system is not interested in sports and has no money. They are not interested in academics and have no support or encouragement at home to do well in school.

Most are between 11 and 14 years old, 78 percent male and 86 percent African- American, he said.

“He is just legitimately angry. The typical case is a 14-year-old who grows to the size of the mother,” said Walker, a lawyer and former civil rights attorney. “It becomes a FINS (family in need of services) case when that kind of parenting grows beyond a simple argument. If the 14-year-old punches mom, it becomes a delinquency – that’s battery.”

“We are a community that calls the police. The only trouble is, when you call the police, it becomes a juvenile situation,” said Walker. In Caddo Parish, if the situation processes through the system and results in disposition through the courts, it is handled in juvenile court.

As one of only four parishes in the state where juveniles are not processed through District Court, Caddo Parish has far more juvenile cases (more than 2,300) than Orleans (with around 580), Jefferson (around 1,120) or East Baton Rouge (around 1,800). 

Three elected judges oversee juvenile cases with the help of Judicial Administrator H.T. “Ted” Cox. There is a juvenile detention center in the building next door to juvenile court. It has 24 beds divided into three pods. Each pod has a teacher who likes the work and wants to be there. There’s a cafeteria with good food and healthy snacks. Most will get a second chance there.

“It’s actually very good; 81 percent don’t come back. But, the one out of five that does come back comes back constantly,” said Walker. If they can be returned to the community, “we try to find a supportive person, a grandmother, aunt, someone who will take the child. We have an entire category for kids in detention: ‘parent refusal.’ We’ve also had children released who refuse to go back home; who would rather stay in detention,” said Walker.

“When he gets back to school, there will be a boy that says, ‘You survived juvie. What happened?’ And, there will be a girl that finds it attractive, so this fourth- or sixth-grader gets attention. Then he is choosing to take on the persona of a tough guy,” said Walker.

At this point the system is functioning with lots of help from nonprofits, particularly Volunteers for Youth Justice and Rutherford House. But, recent changes by the legislature to move some offenders from the adult to the juvenile system may upend this delicate balance. Particularly since no additional funding seems to be forthcoming.

“On July 1, 2018, 17-year-olds charged with nonviolent crimes will come to juvenile court,” said Walker.

“July 1, 2020, we will also get violent crimes.” They are coming, whether the courts and the center will be ready is another matter.

“We will build and house appropriate kids or we will release kids that really should be held if we don’t have enough beds,” said Walker. “It depends on whether the public supports the beds. We currently have 24 beds. Our average population is 22. I think we need an additional 24. Not only are we adding approximately 300 17-year-olds each year, we will be holding the transfer kids charged in adult court with charges like murder and rape. And those transfer kids will stay a lot longer – until they are tried in adult court, which could months and even years. So, ultimately, my recommendation is a minimum of 24 more beds.”

Once they’re processed through the system, they can be transferred to a juvenile prison, group home, or released back to their home on probation. Sometimes parents fail them there as well by obstructing the probation plan, a chargeable offense.

Parents may “fail to refill medication, fail to get a child signed up in a program, fail to get a child to a program, fail to get a younger child to school, actively promote negative behavior, provide a child with drugs or alcohol, encourage violent behavior,” Walker said.

Walker believes a lot of these young people would never have gotten this far if they could have become interested in school and problems arising at school, could have been solved before they entered the system.

He believes both Caddo District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. and Dr. Lamar Goree, superintendent of Caddo Schools, are helping address these problems.

“Since Goree came, the misdemeanor referral count is down 66 percent,” said Walker. “The school system calls (the new changes) ‘climate and culture.’ It is remarkable to me how much of an impact it has had.”

Stewart has helped “by truly addressing truancy as top priorities – seeking funds, calling attention to the issue politically, using political clout to call together community partners,” said Walker. “The help has been real, timely and tangible. It prevents crime.”


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