This op-ed by Ubuntu director Ernest Johnson was originally published in Nola.com on January 26, 2022.
Once every few months we read headlines about an uptick in youth crime. Our elected officials express concern and urgency, they bicker with each other about which institution is responsible, and then the crisis fades from view without any meaningful reform.
We have been talking about “reform” in the criminal justice world for over 20 years, yet we still see persistently high crime rates.
We don’t need reform, we need significant economic investment in our families and young people.
The institutions debating who’s to blame for the recent crime spree are all reactive: the DA, the police, the sheriff. These groups don’t stop crimes before they occur; they react once a crime has already happened. Reforming these institutions, and throwing more money their way, will not fundamentally change the dynamics that lead to youth crime and violence.
We need investment, and that means significant increases in funding from the federal level down.
We live in a city facing serious poverty. New Orleans is increasingly unaffordable, especially for workers earning close to the minimum wage, and rents have continued to rise even while residents struggle to recover from Hurricane Ida. The pandemic has thrown already precarious employment into further disarray, and it has also disrupted day care arrangements. These are dynamics that lead to desperation, and desperation fuels crime.
Yet when you look at the city budget, we divert most of our money to the police, the sheriff, and other reactive institutions, which do little to help families and young people in need.
True investment in our young people requires more money than the city has. We need federal and state investment, too. We need a shift in our priorities. But if we are genuinely as concerned about the crime rate as we claim, there is no other option.