The Southern Poverty Law Center claims the prosecution of children in adult criminal court in New Orleans has failed to protect public safety and increases the likelihood that juveniles will end up behind bars again.

The SPLC claims that District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro prosecutes children as adults in almost every case in which he has the option, even for children with no prior delinquency record, children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities, and children accused of nonviolent offenses.

The New Orleans City Council will soon consider a resolution calling on the district attorney to examine each child’s individual characteristics before sending him or her to the adult system. The City Council will also hear testimony from local and national experts about  the advantages of prosecuting transfer-eligible youth in the juvenile justice system.

“Pushing as many children as possible into adult court is not a strategy for creating safer communities,” said Lisa Graybill, SPLC deputy legal director. “It’s time for this destructive practice to end. Cannizzaro is an outlier compared to Louisiana’s other district attorneys. Orleans Parish needs an evidence-based approach that actually results in safer communities and the rehabilitation of young people.”

According to the SPLC, over a 3 year period beginning in 2011, Cannizzaro sent more than 80% of cases involving 15- and 16-year-olds into the adult system when there was an option to prosecute in either juvenile or adult court.  Under state law, a judge has no say in these decisions. Discretion rests solely with each parish’s district attorney.

The sentences that children in the adult system receive in Orleans Parish are often the same as those they could have received in the juvenile justice system. But the SPLC says young people in the adult system serve those sentences without the services offered by the juvenile system – services that rehabilitate, educate and prepare them for successful re-entry into the community.