Stephanie Grace: Rising Crime Will Test Criminal Justice Reform Movement | Columnist Stéphanie Grace
Almost six months after taking office as Orléans parish attorney, Jason Williams has mostly kept his promise to move away from the intransigent policies of his predecessor, Leon Cannizzaro. Yet the former defense lawyer and city council member must have known, even when he campaigned, that there would come a time when his unwavering commitment to criminal justice reform collided with the realities of life. ‘a truly horrible event. criminality.
And so, after vowing never to send juvenile defendants into a criminal justice system designed for adults, he did. Last month, Williams’ office secured a second degree murder indictment against two 15-year-olds accused of killing Anita Irvin-LeViege, 52, while delivering groceries to her step-in-law. family, in what police described as a botched carjacking. try.
“My decision to prosecute this murder and armed robbery by minors in criminal court is not at all taken lightly, but it is fair and it is just,” Williams said, as many of those who had taken him at his word shouted in protest. “We refuse to ignore the gravity of their actions and we must seek appropriate accountability. The limits of the juvenile sentencing guidelines would be insufficient to hold young people accountable for heinous crimes. “
Whether the decision was indeed fair and just, and whether Williams truly expected to keep his promise, are questions for another day. For now, let’s call it the about-face – indeed, her taking a position taken by her defeated second-round opponent Keva Landrum, who has said she will reserve the option of trying minors as a adults only for the most egregious cases – a sign of times dread, and a test of public commitment to reform as crime rates rise.
Why Jason Williams’ decision to charge minors as adults with murder angers some groups
Williams’ victory was part of a national trend for big cities to elect reform-minded prosecutors and even conservative legislatures such as Louisiana overturning harsh policies of the past. Among the general premises of the movement are that nonviolent offenders deserve a second chance, that children whose brains have not yet been fully formed should not be treated like adults, and that policies such as over bail. unfairly punish the poor who have not been convicted of crimes.
Yet if Williams’ election was a public mood referendum a year ago, this fall’s municipal election may well be a test of how voters feel amid a spate of murders. , shootings and carjackings – including another recent attempted hijacking which ended in dead stabbing of Portia Pollock, 60, as she left for work, allegedly by a man who was out on bail and was not connected to electronic surveillance, as it was supposed to be.
Offices such as the criminal sheriff, mayor and city council are on the fall ballot. While Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who oversees the police department, doesn’t expect a serious challenge, several council seats will be hotly contested.
“It could have been my mother”: NOPD chief reacts to brutal knife death of physiotherapist
One of the main contenders for the former Williams General Council seat, former State Senator JP Morrell, recently posted a revealing Facebook post in light of Pollock’s death, titled “We Must Talk About crime “, with the promise of a platform to come. . Take this as a prediction and an acknowledgment that external events tend to dictate the substance of political campaigns.
The twist here is that Morrell, like Williams, is a leading figure in the criminal justice reform movement. Whatever platform he offers, a way will have to be found to balance security with the principles he espoused throughout his career in the Legislature.
Ditto for the other candidates. District C councilor Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who is also running for headquarters, is another supporter of reform measures, including community policing and finding ways to treat people facing mental health emergencies without appeal. to the police. Frankly, anyone who has a chance of being elected in New Orleans is likely to share that perspective.
And so the question will not be whether to go back to the crime suppression policies that voters generally reject these days, but how to keep pushing through reforms while keeping crime from spiraling out of control.