Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Louisiana House approves bill to open juvenile records in majority-Black areas

Three of the state’s predominantly Black parishes would be affected by the Louisiana House of Representatives’ recent approval of a bill to make some juvenile criminal records public.

House Bill 321, which would open up court records for minors as young as 13 in Caddo, Orleans and East Baton Rouge parishes, passed the chamber on a 63-36 vote on Thursday, according to The Advocate.

State Rep. Debbie Villio, a Republican from Kenner who sponsored the legislation, said it was about “public safety,” contending that it aimed to reduce crime in Louisiana parishes with the highest rates by promoting greater transparency.

Louisiana State Capitol x theGrio
A view of the Louisiana State Capitol, where its House of Representatives recently approved House Bill 321, which would open up court records for minors as young as 13 in Caddo, Orleans and East Baton Rouge parishes. (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

While supporters of the measure hope it will pave the way for a statewide system, some lawmakers have branded it an overtly racist initiative that would subject Black children to scrutiny usually reserved for the adult criminal justice system.

“Let’s be real. We know what this is about,” said state Rep. Edmond Jordan, a Democrat from Baton Rouge, The Advocate reported. “The optics are obvious. Let’s stop playing around with this,” he said.

“If you’re from Baton Rouge, if you’re from Shreveport, if you’re from New Orleans,” he continued, “you should be offended by this.”

The proposal by Villio would require the three municipalities to develop publicly accessible electronic databases — linked to the attorney general’s office website — containing minute entries from juvenile court proceedings.

The three parishes were reportedly the bill’s target due to their high crime rates, with Villio citing a dramatic increase in gun violence in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport in recent years.

Lawmakers made several failed attempts on the floor to soften House Bill 321; Rep. Barry Ivey, a Republican from Central, called it “reckless and irresponsible.”

The legislation will now head to the state Senate but will only succeed if funds are set aside.

Republican state Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley, who’s running for attorney general, is also among those who expressed reservations about opening juvenile records.

“Even though these kids are accused of very bad crimes,” he said, The Advocate reported, “they’re still just accused.”

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