Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series in which The Banner examines juvenile crime and the challenges that law enforcement and local government.
Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Tony Clayton needed one word to provide his thoughts on the state’s juvenile judicial system.
“Pathetic,” he said.
Reform of the state Office of Juvenile Justice is long overdue, Clayton said.
A state law that took effect in 2019 pushed the age from 17 to 18 for a criminal to be tried as an adult.
In the meantime, the system remains broken.
“Shame on the Legislature for not enacting laws and not implementing a system to fix this problem,” he said.
“I’ve always said the system should not just be a holding system for juveniles until they become adults.
“By doing as they are now, they’re only going to institutionalize them … and that process does not have any aspect of rehabilitation.”
Clayton spoke with The Banner 12 days after two car burglaries kept Pointe Coupee Parish sheriff’s deputies on a parishwide search throughout the Christmas weekend.
All three suspects were juveniles. The alleged ringleader – who was arrested Saturday – had escaped from juvenile facilities twice.
Clayton spoke just one day after a more heinous crime occurred in another area of the judicial district.
A 14-year-old Plaquemine boy was arrested for the murder of a 17-year-old man in Iberville Parish city’s first homicide of 2022.
The 14-year-old broke through a window and shot his sleeping victim point-blank on the side of the head.
The incident was not gang related.
The lack of available space in Louisiana juvenile detention facilities forced the Plaquemine Police Department to send the juvenile to a facility in Alabama.
The detention will cost the Plaquemine Police Department $600 per day.
“That’s money out of my department’s budget, and he’s in a facility that requires psychologists and psychiatrists,” Plaquemine Police Chief Kenny Payne said.
The costs did not stop there. Payne had to send two officers to drive the accused murderer to the Alabama facility.
Clayton said it’s time for lawmakers to rescind the “Raise the Age” law, authored by state Sen. J.P. Morell, D-New Orleans.
The bill was passed in the 2017 state legislative session, but it took effect in 2019 after a delay of nearly one year.
Under the law, the state no longer automatically arrests, detains and prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults when the teens are accused of nonviolent crimes.
Advocates hoped the bill would better rehabilitate youth.
A person can formulate criminal intent at an early age, the district attorney said.
“If you can formulate the requisites of specific intent to commit the crime, then that’s a necessary element,” he said. “Thus, if you can formulate that intent, you can suffer the consequences.”
The circumstances surrounding a 14-year-old who kills a sleeping man supports those facts even more, according to Clayton.
“A 14-year-old approached a man while he was sleeping, took the weapon while it was loaded in which the bullet travels over 2,000 feet per second. He aimed it at his head – point blank – and pulled the trigger,” he said.
“He knew that by pointing that gun at the head of that other kid, that he would suck the life out of him.
“You can’t tell me that 14-year-old did not know that by pointing that head of that individual that it would kill him” Clayton said.
“I’m convinced that he forfeits his life to walk around with the rest of us. He took off running, and the fact that he ran is further proof that he knew what he had done – and this young man was an exceptional gifted-and-talented student.”
Clayton emphasized, however, that the system will not fix itself.
Louisiana needs to revert to a hybrid of the old law, and somewhat of a new law, he said.
“The old law has to have a component of social intervention for these youngsters, and I think we can achieve that by having an educational component that is intrinsically intertwined with detention,” Clayton said.
“I think we need that so that all socially progressive people don’t think we’re just locking up the juveniles and throwing away the keys so that when we bring in the educational component, it satisfies them.”
It also would satisfy the law enforcement community in terms of keeping crime down by taking the element out of the community and supplanting the law enforcement with the job of the parents.
Some parents see the penal system as a last resort to put their children back on the right path in life, Clayton said.
“Believe it or not, there’s a large percentage of mothers who are single parents who are raising these kids who won’t come out in public and tell you, but they’ll tell us, ‘Please take them, I can’t control them … at least I know they’re safe with you all,’ ” Clayton said.
“Others will say the know where their child is and that they don’t want to see them there, but at least they know someone will be there to educate him.”
NEXT: Generational aspects of crime, and, and how education and parental discipline can reserve the trend of juvenile deviance.