District Attorney’s Office dealing with a rise in youth crime

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 10:14 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Youth crime is on the rise in Northeast Louisiana, according to Monroe Police Chief Victor Zordan.

“We did see a change in the age of people that will shoot a gun,” explained Zordan. “For instance, 14,15, 16 years old. That is something that has changed.”

The job of prosecuting the juveniles responsible falls on Assistant District Attorney John Sanders. Sanders has spent over two decades in juvenile justice, and says his job is to keep people out of the prison system when they become adults.

“Everybody that goes into the detention center gets evaluated with a standardized form,” explained Sanders. “That form helps is to evaluate on a points system, do they need to be in detention, or are their other alternatives.”

Sanders says the DA’s Office is working with an outside group to rehabilitate young offenders.

“Some of the research shows that if you have someone who goes into a criminal, even a juvenile justice facility, it can increase the chances they come back,” Sanders told KNOE.

Some of those initiatives include access to mental health and substance abuse programs. However, Sanders says some criminals are so violent, detention is the only option.

“Usually, if you are going to go to detention, that will be decided upfront,” said Sanders. “We have a detention hearing within a few days of you being placed in detention, and then we decide if you stay in or go home.”

In Louisiana, kids as young as 14 can be tried as adults for certain crimes. The DA’s Office has the discretion over whether or not someone is charged as an adult, but says it takes time.

“We don’t ever want to automatically transfer someone into the adult system,” explained Sanders. “We want to be able to get a report, find out what happened, and get some input from everyone involved.”

Sanders says the DA’s Office has had success with diversion programs, but acknowledges that curbing recidivism is difficult.

“We see a lot of people who go into custody and do really well,” said Sanders. “Maybe their grades pick up, get caught up in school, but then they get out, and they go back, and they are running around with the same people they got in trouble with in the first place.”

Sanders added that other alternatives to detention include group homes and a drug court program focused on treating people with substance abuse problems without incarceration.

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