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DA: Teens accused of violent crime to face adult prosecution

February 5, 2022 GMT

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — In an effort to cut juvenile crime, a southwest Louisiana prosecutor said his office will start charging teens who commit violent crimes, like murder or rape, as adults.

District Attorney Don Landry said his office, which covers Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes, is prepared to move in that direction.

“If juveniles want to use guns, and commit violent crimes in the 15th judicial district like adults, then they will be prosecuted as adults,” he said. “We have to deter our juveniles from committing these crimes, and we have to aggressively prosecute them if they choose to commit those violent crimes.”

If someone aged 15, 16 or 17 is accused of committing a violent crime like murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated burglary or aggravated battery, Landry said he will take the case before a grand jury, which could then indict the teen as an adult, The Advertiser reported.

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Landry said he made the decision after hearing from victims’ families, especially in murder cases, where the family is “facing all of the heartache” only to have shorter caps on juvenile sentences.

He also pointed to a rise in violent juvenile crime.

Since July, there have been nine juveniles in Lafayette Parish accused of first- or second-degree murder, two in Acadia and one in Vermilion. Juveniles accused of attempted first- or second-degree murder jumps to 26 in Lafayette Parish, 19 in Acadia and three in Vermilion.

But punitive measures don’t actually work to combat violent crime, argued John James, a youth and family advocate for Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, a group that works to keep children from going to prison and support those who have.

“We’re talking about Louisiana where we know that one of the main things that we lead in is incarceration,” he said. “So if we thought that incarceration was the solution, we wouldn’t be having that conversation right now.”

James contends prosecuting teens as adults doesn’t help keep communities safer or reduce the recidivism rate, which is how likely someone will reoffend.

“Evidence shows that transferring youth to adult criminal court does not make our communities any safer, or reduced recidivism,” he said. “In fact, transfer makes it significantly more likely that a youth will have further contact with the criminal justice system.”

Instead, teens who commit crimes benefit from a youth juvenile system that addresses underlying trauma and grief, provides mental health interventions and offers education while holding them accountable, James said.

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Things like living wages for workers, trauma-informed schools that don’t have zero-tolerance policies, access to physical and mental health care, affordable housing and other community investments have been shown to make a difference when reducing crime, he said.

Landry said he plans to go to schools to warn teens that their actions, if considered violent, will have consequences the same as adults. He hopes that such a warning will be enough to deter them before they ever commit a crime.

“People ought to be able to be safe in their homes,” Landry said.