The proposed legislation singles out Baton Rouge New Orleans and Shreveport
By Molly Ryan and Metia Carroll/LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—A House committee voted 13-2 Wednesday to advance a bill that would make juvenile criminal information in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport more available to the public.
House Bill 321 would compile the names and other information of juvenile criminals in a database that the public could access. Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Jefferson, who brought the bill, said this would increase public safety through accountability.
Even though many juvenile defendants in urban areas are Black, Villio said the bill does not target race. It doesn’t target district attorneys. It doesn’t target judges.”
“This bill is about public safety,” she added.
Villio said members of the public, especially victims of crimes, have a right to view and analyze documents and decisions related to juvenile crimes. Items like medical records and pictures would not be available to the public.
Proponents of the bill said juvenile crimes account for an increasing portion of all crimes. They pointed out that New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport are all listed in the top 10 most dangerous cities in the nation.
“That tells us that we have a problem,” Attorney General Jeff Landry said in testimony in support of the bill.
Some opponents of the bill expressed concerned that giving the public access to juvenile offenders’ information will hurt them later when they seek scholarships or apply for jobs.
“We do not want to allow individuals’ participation or involvement with the criminal legal system from a kid’s perspective as juveniles to not recognize that they could perhaps become productive members of our communities,” Will Snowden, director of Vera Institute of Justice, said.
Many people crowded into the hearing room to support the bill. They included Sherilyn Price, mother of New Orleans comedian Brandon “Boogie B” Montrell, who was shot by a stray bullet outside of a grocery store in New Orleans.
Price was never given information about her son’s death from the New Orleans Police Department or the district attorney’s office and feels this bill will help victims whose family members are not high profile such as her son.
“I’m hoping this bill will give victims some information.” Price said.
“At least you can begin the process of healing if you can understand what has happened to you.” she added.
Other witnesses also said they were not notified by the district attorney and were not told that the juvenile who committed the crime were released.
Elisabeth Hansard, whose son is paralyzed after being shot by a juvenile, said: “We naively thought that all would be taken care of by the judicial process.”
But one critic of the bill, Meghan Garvey, president of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said it would not help victims receive the resources they need, such as information from the police or the district attorney’s office.
“It’s not clear to me that this bill is actually a solution to crime or in any way a victims rights bill,” Garvey said. “If there’s a miscommunication with the district attorney getting people to come to court, that’s an issue, and that’s not going to be solved by this,” she added.