Academic journal article Social Justice

Public, Safety, Risk

Academic journal article Social Justice

Public, Safety, Risk

Article excerpt

On May 12, 2013, two young men, brothers, shot into a crowd at a Mother's Day parade in New Orleans leaving 19 people injured--some critically. One of the two brothers, Akein Scott, had been arrested that March and, after spending almost two months incarcerated awaiting the filing of formal charges, had been released from the local jail on a $15,000 commercial bond less than two weeks prior to the shooting. The shooting sent shock waves through the city. It felt to many like pure luck that no one was killed--the two brothers shot indiscriminately with the goal of hitting a single individual, endangering a great many lives in the process. The shooting happened in the middle of the day during one of the city's many opportunities for collective celebration, leaving many New Orleans residents with the feeling that no place in their city was safe from gun violence.

The Mother's Day shooting was quickly taken up in the media as a failure of public safety and thus as the responsibility of the agencies that receive funding through the public safety section of the municipal budget. The agency to suffer the most public scrutiny was New Orleans' relatively new Pretrial Services program. News surfaced that, at the time of Akein Scott's previous arrest that March, he had been assessed by Pretrial Services staff as a low-risk defendant who could safely be released pending trial, allegedly scoring 3 out of a possible 24 points on the program's risk assessment scale. (1) Allegations were leveled that Pretrial Services encouraged the release of dangerous criminals. A representative of Pretrial Services reminded both media and lawmakers that the program's risk assessment instrument was an actuarial tool designed to calculate the risk of more mundane possibilities, such as rearrest or failure to appear in court, and it was never intended to predict an exceptional incident such as a mass shooting, The argument failed to appease the program's critics and, under pressure, the program revisited its risk assessment model. (2) The District Attorney, pressed to appear tough on crime, passed the case off to the broader punitive powers of federal prosecutors; Akein Scott was ultimately sentenced to life in prison on federal gang and racketeering charges.

On October 17, 2016, 15-year-old Jaquin Thomas was found dead in his cell in New Orleans' municipal jail, having apparently used his mattress cover to asphyxiate himself. At a vigil hosted on the courthouse steps a few days later, his grandmother's sobs cut sharply through the night air as the bereaved family joined with jail reform advocates to speak to an assembled crowd of supporters and local news media about the urgent need to stop housing children in the adult jail. Jaquin had been in the adult jail since July, waiting to find out if charges of second-degree murder would be filed against him. Although the age of legal adulthood in Louisiana is 17, children as young as 14 can be and regularly are charged as adults for serious violent crimes, such as murder and armed robbery, under current state law. When his case was transferred to adult court, Jaquin was transferred to the adult jail. There he waited one month before he was brought to a first appearance in the adult criminal court, at which point bail was set at $550,000. He came back to court about three weeks later, in mid-September, to plead for a reduction in the amount; bail was reset to $300,000. By mid-October, Jaquin was dead. He still had not been formally charged with a crime.

In the days following Jaquin's death, agencies within New Orleans' criminal justice system were once again called to task, and each put forward arguments for their own blamelessness. In response to cries that a child should not have to spend months in jail before his court case even begins, the district attorney reminded city residents that Jaquin's time in jail fell well within the 120-day window in which his office decides whether or not to pursue the case. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.