Danae Columbus: Who is to blame for New Orleans’ record levels of juvenile crime?

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

The soaring crime rate among juveniles is just another indication that most New Orleans schools are not adequately serving the hardest-toreach children. Juveniles often turn to crime because of poverty, undesirable living conditions, minimal parental involvement, and an overall lack of opportunities. Providing the comprehensive wrap-around services required by the many New Orleans children who have learning or behavioral problems is simply not a priority in today’s educational system.

Perhaps the most successful program for children with behavior problems is the Travis Hill School which operates at two locations within the Orleans Parish juvenile justice system. Although participation is far from voluntary, juveniles have a support team that includes psychologists, social workers, and mentors. They are able to continue their education, perhaps graduate or receive a GED which helps prepare them for life on the outside.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the majority of New Orleans schools were public schools that had trained support staff to specifically work with problem children. Immediately after Katrina, some high school students returned to complete their education and often lived alone in FEMA trailers without any parental guidance. Juvenile crime was out of control then too. Some of those teens now have children who are perpetuating that cycle.

The advent of charter schools created new budget priorities. No longer were psychologists and social workers, small classroom sizes, or even school nurses a top priority. The focus shifted to preparing students to score well on standardized tests. Often students who do not fit the mold – whether because of disabilities or behavioral problems – are sidelined. Students who are “held back” because of poor test scores, frequently drop out. While overall test scores might improve for a specific school, the pool of potential juvenile delinquents also grows.

If we want to reduce juvenile crime, schools must be committed to teach each child in a way in which the child is best able to learn. It’s an old-school approach, but would still work today. Casting difficult learners aside will never help reduce juvenile crime rates. We almost should offer school-based early childhood learning to provide a solid foundation. Charter schools must be part of the solution by reprioritizing expenditures or developing new sources of funding. Every child deserves a quality education that prepares them for life.


Former New Orleans firefighter Lateef Shaheer, 47, will challenge incumbent Jimmy Harris for the House District 99 seat. A graduate of St. Augustine High School and Dillard University, Shaheer was an auditor at Flamingo Casino before beginning joining the fire department fourteen years ago. A husband and father of five children, Shaheer says he is running because citizens need help. “As a firefighter I saw people at their worst moment so I know there is great need in the community,” said Shaheer. He also believes that current elected officials are not easily accessible.

A graduate of St. Augustine High School, Morehouse College, and Southern University Law Center, Harris worked for Congressman Cedric Richmond and served as a lobbyist for the City of New Orleans before winning his legislative seat almost four years ago. The popular Harris has introduced a number of noteworthy bills this session including “Donna’s Law,” a voluntary do-not-sell gun registry that would prohibit people who believe they may be suicidal from purchasing a weapon and also making it a crime to sell that person a weapon. Donna’s Law was concepted by Katrina Brees who lost her mother Donna Nathan to suicide. Harris has also filed legislation which would allow the City of New Orleans to levy a tax on short term rentals, extend the sunset of tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic structures, and require the instruction of personal financial management in public schools. Harris has a psychology degree and worked in the mental health field before attending law school.


Former congressional candidate Tammy Savoie will challenge incumbent Stephanie Hilferty in House District 94 which includes parts of Orleans and Jefferson Parish. A Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, Savoie was one of five opponents who ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Steve Scalise last year. Savoie says she is making her second bid for office because she wants to fight for economic prosperity, first-rate education, and quality healthcare. A licensed psychologist, Savoie received 16.4 percent of the vote against Scalise.


New Orleans attorney Fayenishia Honeyetta Matthews, a member of Emerge Louisiana, is close to making a final decision to enter the race for the House District 97. The seat is currently held by Joe Bouie who is running for State Senate. Mathews has been licensed to practice law in Louisiana since 2012 and resides near the University of New Orleans. She will celebrate her 33rd birthday next week. Matthews would join four other candidates who have already expressed their interest in the vacancy.


Tulane adjunct professor Aimee Adatto Freeman is being positioned as a good-government “problem solver” not a “partisan politician” in the field of excellent candidates vying to replace Neil Abramson. A strategic business consultant, Freeman has worked with the Bureau of Governmental Research, the Police and Justice Foundation, and Women of the Storm. She will focus on reform-minded initiatives. Married into the family which first distributed Coca-Cola in Louisiana, Freeman’s campaign should be well-funded. Among Freeman’s opponents is her husband West’s cousin, Carlos Zervigon, also a Coca-Cola heir.


Clerk of Civil District Court Chelsey Napoleon Richards will be feted at a fundraiser tonight hosted by Congressman Cedric Richmond, her uncle Alvin Richard and Jimmie Woods. Richards and Woods have been the primary vendors for the city’s garbage collection contract for many years. The event will be held at NOSH, 752 Tchoupitoulas, from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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