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Juvenile crime in New Orleans: Here's how DA candidates say they'll tackle the issue

Both candidates in the runoff for district attorney— Jason Williams & Keva Landrum— want to take a different approach from current District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

NEW ORLEANS — Juvenile crime has been a major issue in New Orleans recently. Both candidates in the runoff for district attorney— Jason Williams & Keva Landrum— want to take a different approach from current District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

Under Cannizzaro's reign, many juvenile offenders are tried as adults.

Williams said he thinks it is immoral to house a child in jail with adults.

"The question is not whether that person is in jail or not in jail. I'm saying they need to be in a facility with other young people so they won't be preyed upon," said Williams.

In general, Landrum said she would keep kids in juvenile court, but she leaves room for exceptions.

"If there is some, and I hope we never experience this, but some extreme case that calls for a lot of public outcry, where I need to possibly review charging someone as an adult...then, I will make that review and only me," said Landrum.

Landrum said she wants to give kids the help they need to stay out of the criminal justice system.

"I have dedicated myself to Roots of Music, where we are now because what I know is that it works. I often tell people that while we are a music education program, we are a crime prevention program," said Landrum.

She said the key is linking kids with positive activity in the community and treating trauma.

Williams also feels it's crucial to give young people on the wrong path other options.

"It's so different than someone that's an adult and there are best practices on restorative justice programs and on other intervention series...and figure out why they are reoffending. A lot of times it's because of something in the home," said Williams.

Another controversial issue is Louisiana's habitual offender law, which allows a district attorney to have a person's punishment enhanced based on their criminal history.

Critics say it has led to excessive sentences in a state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

"The in which we have been using it is more of a sword, chopping people off at the knees on non-violent low-level crime. And that is something that I vow we will not continue that practice," said Landrum.

"When you look at mandatory minimums and the overuse of the habitual offender law in the city of New Orleans, you can see a very racially biased implementation of those things," said Williams.

While Landrum said that she will not use the law as it has historically been used, Williams said he will not use it at all.

"It is unnecessary because the sentences that exist right now are more than enough in terms of what we need to accomplish in terms of punishment," explains Williams.

Neither candidate is in favor of using the death penalty.

"It would not make sense financially or otherwise to pursue a death penalty case in New Orleans. It does not serve as a deterrent and really does not help any victim's family heal," said Landrum.

Williams said, "A place that has the highest rates of exonerations- that means we got it wrong- I don't think can be trusted to use the death penalty. It does not make us safer. Science has shown it does not deter crime."

Both candidates talk about bringing reform to the district attorney's office, but Williams said his record proves that he is a real progressive candidate in this race.

Marijuana use is one of the topics where the candidates' records differ drastically.

While on the city council,  Williams has worked to decriminalize marijuana use.

While Landrum was interim D.A, reports say she ramped up prosecutions of repeat marijuana offenses to felonies.

"So under the law, we did screen those cases as the law saw fit at that time, but as a community and a society, we have all evolved and recognized that we need to not be prosecuting marijuana cases as felonies and we should not be prosecuting them in state court.

And that is my vow to the people of New Orleans," explains Landrum.

"Hopefully we all evolve, and I believe everyone deserves the grace to do that, but it's not worth risking the soul of this city for another six years to see if it's true. We are not what we say. We are what we do," responds Williams.

Williams also plans to force every prosecutor in the office to reapply for their job and to get implicit bias training.

"I've got to make sure that they are committed to real reform. It wasn't just the guy at the top," said Williams.

While Williams and others claim that Landrum is not reform-minded enough, she said that is simply not true.

"Most people don't know that I led the charge for our court to move forward and implement reform," said Landrum.

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