Before Hurricane Katrina struck, every weekday morning a string of white vans would stop behind the Orleans Parish, La., juvenile court and unload dozens of youths in handcuffs. Today, those youths barely fill a car, much less a van, says the New Orleans-Times Picayune. Katrinia’s floods wiped out both local detention facilities — all 132 beds. The crisis was viewed as an opportunity by both youth advocates and many police who saw the juvenile lockup as a breeding ground likely to turn many delinquents into hardened criminals.
A consortium of officials and youth advocates decided against rebuilding the juvenile jails, seeing them as part of a flawed system that relied too heavily on detention and offered few alternative programs. Now, violent offenders are detained, but most arrested children are released to their parents and ordered to appear in court later. Those under the purview of the juvenile court, which ends at age 17, include only 2 percent of last year’s alleged New Orleans gunmen and 6 percent of victims. “We’re always quick to blame kids for violence,” said Bart Lubow of the Annie Casey Foundation, which is aiding the reform initiative, “but the data shows that kids are not driving this violence.” The Times-Picayune describes how the juvenile justice system changed in New Orleans after Katrina.