CRIMETACKER: Juvenile offenders

Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 10:34 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An 11-year-old was arrested for breaking into cars 22 times.

“My concern is, you have video games and kids are playing these games. They are re-enacting it in the street. This is someone’s life that they are actually jeopardizing,” says NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson.

“I was like ‘that looks like a little kid,’ and I was just shocked,” says the victim.

Kids are getting arrested across New Orleans for car break-ins, carjacking, and even murder.

MORE: Recent crimes have some worried about NOLA’s level of violence

“The majority of kids that commit the crimes now aren’t doing small petty crimes anymore. They want to do big stuff,” says D.J. Jubilee.

Rapper DJ Jubilee is a longtime teacher, youth coach, and mentor to at-risk kids. He says through the years, he’s seen juveniles become more brazen than ever before, almost competing on a criminal level.

“If I do this, will you give me some brownie points? Will you still be my friend? If I do this here, will I get known? The mental part of the kids, of the crime that they’re committing, is now very serious,” says Jubilee.

Jubilee believes kids committing the most serious crime know exactly what they’re doing.

“Because now they’ve gotten brave with it. They will do it in front of cameras. They walk up to anybody. They just take a chance on what they want to do,” says Jubilee.

Chief Ferguson says social media plays a major role.

“They’re bragging about it. They are showing their crime,” says Jubilee.

“Social media today has changed the way everything is perceived. Our youth has so much access to that social media and they believe what they’re seeing is real,” says Jubilee

“That’s the subculture in New Orleans. It’s very violent. I participated in that culture, and I was very hard wired like plenty of these kids, to where I had no composure at all,” says Baraka.

Actor and mentor Ameer Baraka wasn’t always on a good path. He spent years incarcerated as both an adult and a juvenile.

“Robbing, doing stuff, is part of the culture that has a stronghold, and for some reason, we go beyond the call of duty when we do these things,” says Baraka.

He says once the street life takes hold of a kid, that bond can be difficult to break. As a mentor, he’s experienced it first hand.

“He’s a dangerous kid, but I love him. He can’t go anywhere without a gun because he says, ‘Mr. Ameer, I got to carry a gun because I’m not going to let these dudes kill me,’ so he has to have a gun. I understand that because no one wants to die, but that’s the impasse he’s in where he has to carry a gun. There’s so much beef going on, he has to carry a gun,” says Baraka.

Dr. Stephen Phillippi is a licensed clinical social worker with LSU Health Behavioral & Community Health. He says the brain of a child doesn’t fully develop until they’re in their twenties. In addition, he says kids are social creatures “very influenced by peer pressure.”

“When we talk about kids versus adults in crime, kids almost always commit crimes in groups,” says Dr. Phillippi.

He says children are also more impulsive, so they don’t perceive risks well. When it comes to changing their criminal behavior, there’s debate on how to do that. Some of the juveniles’ victims have expressed concern, asking for more to be done to rehabilitate.

“He needs help. I mean it’s not only him. It’s the whole system that needs help,” says a carjacking victim.

“The answer is certainly not to keep letting these thugs out once they get arrested. Lock them up for a day or two and then let them out,” says a crime victim.

“Right now, it’s my position to work with our partners in the criminal justice system to ensure they’re holding these individuals accountable. I’m not an advocate of incarceration, but I am an advocate for accountability and that’s what is needed right now,” says Chief Ferguson.

“If you tap them on their hands, it will escalate. They’ll be our future criminals. I don’t want that. I don’t want to see another black boy go to prison for 15 to 20 years because someone didn’t address this kid when he was young. Someone didn’t take him aside and place him somewhere he had to sit for a year or two where he had to learn and realize, ‘I just carjacked a woman and there are penalties for that,’” says Baraka.

Jubilee agrees.

“You have to teach some of these kids a lesson because if you don’t teach some of these kids a lesson right now, this never going to stop. I’ve been saying this for 16 years, kids need to be held accountable for what they do,” says Jubilee.

City leaders say they’ve invested millions in youth programs to prevent recidivism. Dr. Phillippi says evidence-based programs and therapy can make a difference.

“Sometimes they work with the network around the kid. So how do we get the teachers, the probation officers, and the family members together? That’s the people that are involved in this kids network, so there are workarounds for the kids that are really resistant to treatment, and they’ve shown a lot of success,” says Dr. Phillippi.

Success he says that can happen without incarceration. However, some believe programs aren’t the answer.

“We’ve done all of that. We put kids in all types of programs, but you wind up still doing that same crime at the end of the day,” says Jubilee.

“There’s a self-awareness that comes in, and I think every kid has the ability to realize they don’t want to be locked up. So, yes, the help isn’t there. While there are some programs, I want to get you off the street because you can’t just keep robbing people. You can’t do this. You’re going to kill somebody,” says Baraka.

Dr. Phillippi agrees sometimes detention is needed to keep the public safe but he says the intense rehabilitation programs aren’t always available behind the walls of a detention facility.

“If detention or jail did actually teach all these things, we wouldn’t have a problem in Louisiana because we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, so that’s one. We’ve already got a proven track record on that. It doesn’t solve the problem,” says Dr. Phillippi.

He says punishment doesn’t teach new behavior. At the same time, he admits programs don’t always work.

“Even with some of the evidence-based programs that I’m talking about we’re going to miss some of these kids. It’s not going to be effective. It’s not going to work,” says Dr. Phillippi.

Both mentors say they’ve lost plenty of kids to crime and violence through the years and they believe it all comes down to choice.

“That’s the reality. That’s the harsh reality we live in. Some people are incorrigible criminals,” says Baraka.

“Start making smart decisions. Start knowing that we all know in this city what you’re doing. Make a better choice than what you’re doing,” says Jubilee.

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