(...)Chartock: ....cut the budget of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court by two-thirds. The
system was nearly gone, and that presented an opportunity to build it from scratch. Chief Judge
Bell oversaw the reform of the juvenile justice system. Judge, let's start the way that I love to
do it by telling the people out there exactly who you are. Where did you grow up, how did you do
it, who took care of you, and what were your experiences. Bell: Okay, well my name is David
Bell, from Pensacola, Florida, which is just Alabama with a beach if you've never been there. My
mother gave birth to me when she was 16 years old. She was a high-school dropout. She left me at
the hospital because I was a funny-looking baby. My Aunt Jean went and picked me up and brought
me to my grandmother's house and my grandmother raised me with my fourteen cousins. I went to
public school, attended the first grade on two separate occasions. Some would say I failed or
flunked. I'd just say that I liked the first grade. I was in special education classes through
the fourth grade, and I finally learned how to read when I was in the eighth grade. Graduated from
high school, went to college, graduated from college, went to law school, ran a private law
practice for about eleven years. I'd spend my Fridays sitting around drinking and talking about
all the problems and one day a good buddy said well, do something about it. So I took that
challenge seriously and decided that I'd run for judge and looked at judgeships and decided that I
wanted to run for juvenile court judge, and ran, and just been trying to do my part. Chartock:
How'd you get to be the Chief? Bell: You know, when people are voting on issues you should never
walk out of the room. That's what I'd say. Chartock: So, respectfully, Judge, when so many kids
go wrong, expecially in impoverished conditions, why didn't you? Bell: I never said I didn't go
wrong. I think that all of us have gone wrong. All of us today still continue to go wrong. We
all have issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps I didn't go as far to the left or as far to
the right as other kids did, but I certainly wouldn't say that I didn't make poor decisions as a
child, as an adolescent, or as an adult. The issue becomes how do you right that wrong, how do
you deal with that wrong, or whether you get caught doing that wrong. Chartock: But it's just
extraordinary that you've done this well. You say you learned to read in the eighth grade. Was
that a joke or was that true? Bell: No, I was the victim of a poor educational system. I was in
special education not because I was an underachieving child but because I have a motor-visual
difficulty and as I read the spacing between words is all even, and so you can't separate the
words by spacing, you have to read that sentence over and over. And it took until the fourth
grade for someone to properly diagnose that problem and to try to help me train my eyes. And I
think that's the reason maybe I have a little bit more compassion for children that have special
needs, because oftentimes it's just the right grown-up taking the time to try to properly assess
the need and put in place a plan. Chartock: How bad were things in your system? Bell: I took
the bench eight months before Hurricane Katrina and within those first eight months I wrote my
resignation letter three times. I found that people would oftentimes hide behind the crux of
public safety, you know, this is a public safety issue, this is a public safety issue... And we
never as a system looked at public safety and what public safety was and what public safety
outcomes were. I found that oftentimes when you would ask people that had been entrenched in the
system why do we do things like this the response was common: well that's the way we've always
done it or, you know, when you looked at where your budgetary strengths were, your weakenesses
were, your strengths were on your personnel side from your cost perspective but your outcomes, you
know... We had five clerks in the clerk's office, you know. One to pick up the file, one to file
the file, one to put the (...) in the work. You know, there was a lot of waste within that
system and I found that people didn't, systematically, the system itself didn't like to be
challenged and wasn't looking for change. We had a prison culture. You know one thing that
detention centers do is they secure jobs, you know. They secure jobs from the lockup side, from
the mental health side, from the social services side, and there's not a lot of compassion for
individuals that are detained or in secure care, or oftentimes in residential placements, and so
you're not going to get those bleeding hearts that say hey, there's a better way to do this.
Chartock: So could you put a face on it for us and tell us what these young people were being
arrested for? Bell: You know, that varies by jurisdiction. I'll tell you this, from a data
standpoint, about 72% of the kids that are arrested don't need to be arrested. They'd be better
off if we just left them alone. Think about when you were a child, think about some of the things
you did and think about, or just consider would you be better off had you been arrested for doing
something that you knew was wrong. A lot of the stuff is just normal adolescent stuff. We've had
kids arrested for things as simple as disturbing the peace. I don't believe a child can disturb
the peace; that's what they do - make noise. Criminal Trespass, you know, playing in a school
basketball court, or baseball field after school hours when the school is closed. I mean, that
should be encouraged in a community. Imean you know, we shouldn't incarcerate them because
they're there on a weekend. Obstruction; in New Orleans for instance, we have the crime of
Obstruction of a Public Passage, which basically means you're tap-dancing in a tourist area. It's
OK to do it if you pay $25 for a permit, but if you dont' it's a violation of the law. There's
some stupid things that we arrest kids for, and then there's some legitimate things, armed
robbery, you know, I mean it runs the gamut. Chartock: So give us a start on, after you tried to
resign three times, you wrote your resignation three times, that was based on what frustrations?
What particular frustrations? Bell: A system, frustration with a system of failure, that we all
acknowledged was a system of failure, but the resistance to trying to change that system. You
know, we all go to seminars and we hear these great things that are happening in other places and
we go wow, that's great but it'll never work where I'm from. We all have policies that we know
don't work for families but we continue to implement those policies. When we find policies and
programs that are successful, they're always the ones that we cut funding for first. It's just a
system of failure that's set up to continue, a cycle that we all say that we're trying to
discourage or revamp, but we don't. We just continue to fund the same old failures. Chartock:
So, Judge Bell, when did you start? I mean, how did you start? Was it an epiphany, what
happened, did you wake up in the middle of the night and say we've got to do something? Bell: I
think everybody acknowledged that we had to do something, but you know, the people up high. You
know we learned early on that the higher you are the more difficult it is to change as system.
The administrators would sit around in a room and say we're going to do this, we're going to do
this, we're going to do this... But that policy, that program would never get to the foot
soldier. And so you know, you can have all the policy that you want but if your lower employees
- I hate to say lower, but - your street-level, your daily interactive employees dont' understand
those policies and dont' implement those policies. It's really just a manual that's sitting in a
room someplace. So we decided that there were two things that had to happen. It being New
Orleans, the first thing was lunch, because everybody had to eat. And the second one was
collaboration. We had a lunch meeting where we pulled every agency together, sat them around a
table, and we said we want to do something a little bit different. My name's Dave Bell and I'm
Chief Judge in New Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, and this is everything that I do wrong. These
are the few things that I do right. And these are the things that I think I can do a lot better.
Chartok: Can you remember any of those? Can you remember any of the things that you did wrong?
Bell: Yeah, I mean, we held kids in detention for contempt time, which basically means that a
judge, or an adult - probation officer, someone like that - allowed a child to control their mind.
You know, we held kids in detention for status offenses. You know, when you think about a kid
that's on probation, or when I think about a kid that's on probation, I think that a probation
officer has the easiest job in the world. Their job is simply to craft a plan that ensures that a
child is successful in the community. That's it. And so if a child is in violation of their
probation, that means the probation officer didn't do his job, when you think about it. Because
that means that the plan that he crafted didn't address the need of the child. It was probably
based on programs that were funded, slots that were available, and things like that. So you know,
those are some of the things that we did wrong. We treated substance abuse as a crime as opposed
to a mental health condition. I mean there are a lot of things that we did wrong. And so when we
sat everyone around that table and said well, I've had my turn, now it's your turn. What do you
do right and what do you do wrong? Everyone went around the table; everyone reluctantly, and some
optimistically, you know said, well this is what he... We said no, no, no, this is not about what
he does wrong. What do you do wrong? What do you do right. And when we got everyone to admit
to those things we said OK, now lets create our perfect system. And so we spent about a year
outlining and crafting and drafting that system. And then we decided there was a better way for
us to spend our dollars. We shouldn't compete for grants. We should bring everyone around that
table again and say you know what, this is a good funding opportunity for you, because you handle
this. So we started to get people to make funding decisions based on where the money should go as
opposed to my budgetary shortfall and me needing to keep this employee. So we started to see
movement, you know, not motion. My friend James Bell says don't mistake motion for movement, and
I didn't understand it when he started saying it. But you can be confused because you see things
starting to get that motion but they're not going anyplace, you know. It's like a truck that's
turned on and idling in the driveway, you know. You have motion but you don't have movement.
Getting things to move, you know, is a little bit more difficult. Because now it meant that you
had to write a letter to support my program. I had to agree not to complete with your program.
But once we got the movement coming we started then looking at outcomes. We said Ok, now, let's
figure out why these kids are being revoked on their probation. And they were simple things.
Judges were putting kids on probation that didn't need to be on probation because they felt oh,
probation is the logical thing to do, the kid's before the court. And so what we did when we did
that is we overworked the probation officer. And if you have a probation officer with more than
20 - 25 cases, you don't have a probation officer. There is no way that person can properly
supervise anybody in the community. You know, figure how many hours of contact there're going be
per week. So then you have to figure out if you want monitoring or supervision. The one thing
that we know is that monitoring will definitely result in technical violations, which will
definitely result in detention time, revocation and secure care. Whereas supervision doesn't,
because supervision gives that probation officer time to go out and touch that child and say hey,
you're not supposed to do that. Now let's talk about why you did and let's fix it. Chartok:
Maybe we could go into, just a little side trip to just what supervision entails. Bell: You
know, I call it parenting. Treat every child like they're your child. You know, our children...
As a child I did not give my mother 100%. I have a daughter, she's fifteen years old. She does
not give me 100%. But never would I say, you didn't give me 100% and so, you're going to be
revoked. Think about it, you know, I think I'm a good parent, and I thought my grandmother was a
good parent. Everyone in this audience probably thinks they're a good parent. But you don't get
100% from your child, I'm willing to bet you, and if you think you do, you've deceived yourself.
But we never lock our children up for not giving us 100%. Now, when we're talking about these
children, most folks start with the belief that they don't have great parents, they're not living
in great environments. And so, why would we expect 100%? If someone's at ground-zero and you
get them to 50%, isn't that a great start? And then you say, you know, Joe, I got you to 50%.
You're not where you need to be, but you made some improvement. Now you're still coming in late,
you're still skipping classes. What I'm going to do is I'm going to tell you the next time I see
you, I expect you to be at about 75%. Now, if you help me, I can help you. But if you can't help
me, I can't help you. And don't revoke them, don't give them contempt time; give them 35 - 40
days to become compliant. Understand that they're not going to become 100% compliant because even
with a great parent like you and a great child like yours, you don't get 100%. We want
incremental improvement. We want to preserve public safety. Children engage in behavior that's
not necessarily the best behavior. But if our goal is to preserve public safety, you know we have
to balance whether that behavior is a threat to public safety, whether it's a threat to themselves
or whether it's a threat to the community. If not, we need to readjust our approach, and figure
out a better way to help or treat that child. Chartok: Judge, with all due respect, you sound
like a liberal. Bell: Well, you know it's weird because all of my conservative friends say I'm
liberal, and all my liberal friends say I'm conservative, so I don't know. Chartock: Tell us the
history of how Katrina played into all of this. Bell: I mean, Katrina did something that...
Katrina gave us the ability to get rid of our employees. You know, I hate to say that, and that
sounds so cruel, but you all have coworkers that you know don't need to be doing their job. And
if you don't know that coworker, you're probably that coworker. They just don't need their job.
And so Katrina gave us an opportunity to purge two-thirds of our workforce. And I hate to say
purge, but you know, we gave them an opportunity to reapply. And then we were able to create
programs that didn't exist before. We said, you know, there's not going to be anyone that's going
to sit in a room and tell us why this won't work. But in creating those programs we brought in
that one-third of our staff that we kept, and we said you know what? We think we suck at doing
this. You guys do it every day. So I want you to create a program that's going to be successful.
Because you're the ones that're going to have to carry out these functions. Now, could we do it
alone? No. We brought in the Southern Poverty Law Clinic, we brought in the Anne E. Casey
Foundation, Vera Institute came to New Orleans, and so we cheated. We looked at the help desk and
we stole, or borrowed, programs that were successful from other jurisdictions. You can't just, we
learned that you can't just pick up something that works someplace else and expect it to work in
your jurisdiction. So my freind Bart said make data-driven decisions, make data-driven decisions.
And so we assessed our programs on a quarterly basis to see what was successful and what wasn't
successful. And each quarter we'd modify our programs to find success. And so once our staff
created those programs, then we made hiring decisions of people that love children. I like to
hire parents, you know, because parents have compassion. I like to hire people fresh out of
college, because people fresh out of college haven't been programmed to believe that the system
functions properly. I like to hire people that are bitter with other systems, that have been
entrenched in the systems for years, because they know what's wrong. And it seems like the longer
you remain in that system, the more you're willing to change it. So when you marry the young
person with the bitter person, with the parent, you actually get a level of commitment to children
that our system hadn't seen before. Chartok: Now Judge, give us an example of somebody who came
before you as a potential hire who you didn't hire. Bell: Oh, the shock factor. We had this
dude, and he came before us and he was from another jurisdiction and we were interviewing him for
one of our positions in intake, to screen children to determine whether or not they should be
confined or should not be confined. And he said, you have to have that shock factor, you know.
What I like to do is I like to bring the kids out in chains and shackles when their parents come
to pick them up, just for that shock factor, so they'd know what it feels like to be... We
didn't... It was an interesting interview but we didn't hire him. Chartok: Any other war
stories? Bell: Everyday is a war story, because every day you see children that we can provide a
better level of service to. You see children that are, you know, victims of poor parenting, poor
educational systems, poor economies... You see children that are the victims of police policies
that are policies of failure that have these long-term detrimental effects on our society. You
know, I like the good stories. I had a ten-year-old who was an automobile thief. And you know he
actually started stealing cars when he was nine. He couldn't reach the pedals, so his brother
would push the pedals for him, and they caught him because he ran into a house. And I say it's a
good story because he didn't know how to read, he didn't know his date of birth, he didn't know
his father, and he wound up getting pulled deeper into the system, unfortunately but, with him
getting pulled into the system we were able to put services into place that taught him how to
read, that taught him how to write, that taught him his birthdate. We got him into school in
another setting that allowed him to be successful, and to transition him out of our system. Those
are the better cases, I think. Chartok: Have you ever had a case where the result was so great
that you literally cried? Or got wet in the eyes? Bell: I cry every night. Yeah, I mean you
have a lot of those stories. I have a young lady who lives in Texas now, who was a mother when
she was fifteen years old, so she was pregnant and on drugs. We got her off drugs. Her child was
born. She's in her third year of college, and she's thriving in the state of Texas. That to me
is a success. We have a young man playing football on a, collegiate football on a national
championship caliber team. To me the mere fact that he's gone from being involved in automobile
thefts to being a junior in college, you know, on a football team, is a success. Then you have
the smaller successes. Just the child that was engaged in inappropriate activity or that wasn't
in school every day, just going to school on a regular basis, testing drug-free. I think that
success is going to be just as big in my mind as the college graduate's successes. Chartok:
We're talking to Chief Judge David L. Bell of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court in New Orleans,
Louisiana. So, you're here with a group of experts, people who are practitioners, but you started
by saying one of the things you were able to do was to fire the people who weren't pulling their
weight. They can't do it, necessarily, because they didn't have Katrina. So how do you get
around that? Bell: I don't think you have to fire people to find success, and I hope that no one
took it that way. Chartok: Well, one did. Bell: One did, OK. I think that everybody has the
ability to be successful. Sometimes we have people sitting in the wrong position, so you're
talking about a lateral transfer of that person to a position that allows them to be more
successful. Sometimes you're talking about shifting duties because you might have someone that's
phenomenal at writing reports, but not phenomenal at providing services. I think the first thing
that you do is... I think it's very important to sit down with those people that you think may be
impediments, or might not be living up to their full potential, and find out from them what you
can do to help them be more successful at their job, and give them the opportunity to be more
successful. I refuse to believe that anyone that would work in the juvenile justice system does
not in their heart believe that children, overall, are good and can be helped and deserve to be
helped. And so I don't think there are bad people working in these systems, I think that there
are people that are in bad programs or in bad situations, and I think that if we're going to be
serious about overhauling these systems, we look at how we can best utilize that employee. You
might be underutilizing that employee. When you talk about an 81% recidivism rate, you see it
three years after. I believe recidivism starts the day a child comes to our attention. You
can't craft a plan to fight recidivism when a child is released from custody. You have to start
fighting recidivism from the first time we gain knowledge of them. I don't think that people for
the most part desire to engage in a criminal life. I think that for a lot of people it's the
outcome or byproduct of their current condition. So I think that a lot of it is exposure, a lot
of it is proper programming. A lot of it is addressing other deficits. Now there are some people
that no matter how great our programs are, how great our intentions are, they're going to be a
risk to public safety. And we have an obligation to preserve public safety. So we have an
obligation to remove those kids from the other kids. But in doing that, and in doing that
properly, we ensure the success of the masses. Chartok: And where do you put them, when you have
to? Bell: I think one of the problems that we've had in the past is that we just placed them
where placement was available. I think that you have to screen and assess every child's needs.
And I think you have to find the most appropriate placement for that need. For some of those kids
that need is going to be secure care. For some of those kids that need may be residential. For
some of those kids that need may be able to be served in the community-based placements. Some of
those kids that we've in the past placed in secure care can be treated very effectively in their
homes, if we provide supervision as opposed to monitoring. Chartok: And what do those secure
facilities look like or feel like, can you tell us? Bell: You know, people have this impression
of secure facilities having these big metal cell doors and bars, and big plexiglass, you know...
I don't think secure care has to look like that. I don't. I think that it very well can look
like that, but I htink that you can close a wooden door just as easily as you close a metal door.
I think that a kid can sleep on a soft mattress just as easily as they can sleep on a hard
mattress. The issue becomes recidivism and programming. What do you want that kid to be
programmed to believe you believe their future is? If you start from day one placing that child in
secure care, slamming that door, you desensitize that child to that. If you start day one making
that child line up in a cattle line to take a shower or eat food you start desensitizing that
child and make that child think that's what's available to that child, and you start encouraging
that child to build improper actions and reactions. I think detention doesn't have to look like
we thought it should look. I think it can look like a bedroom. Perhaps a bedroom that doesn't
have nails in the wall, but it's still a bedroom. Chartok: Judge Bell, you've accomplished a
great deal, I think. The question I have for you now is, where has the pushback come from as you
try to make these reforms? This panel that we're sitting before today, sponsored by the chairs of two
legislative committees and by the governor's people and folks. But, where did you find the
pushback come? Bell: I think pushback is predictable. You're going to get pushback from law
enforcement because they need the buzzwords of public safety. You're going to get pushback from
the DA - we call them the District Attorney, some places call them State's Attorneys - And I'm on
my fourth DA in a year. So you know, I mean certainly... Chartock: Sounds like a lot. Bell:
Yeah, it is. Certainly we're getting pushback from there. But I think that you circumvent
pushback. We used to make detention decisions based on a judge. OK, hold that kid, release that
kid... We created a risk assessment tool and we said OK we're going to get pushback from this
risk assessment tool. Se we thought the logical thing to do was allow the public defender, the
district attorney and the police to create the risk assessment tool. You can't push back on a
tool that you created. Now, when they created that tool, they had to bring that tool to that
collaboration of 31 different agencies that we pulled together early on and said this is what I do wrong,
this is what I do right, and run it through that agency, run it through that collaboration so that
they could then have input on it. Everyone agreed on it and we said OK, before we implement it,
let's run it backwards through our previous detention decisions and see what it shows us. And it
showed us that about a third of the kids that we detained would have been released, but for it.
So then we implemented it, and when we implemented it, it had phenomenal outcomes. Of the kids
that were released on the risk assessment, via the risk assessment tool, 92% of those kids were
non-recidivism kids. They did not get rearrested. So from there, we looked at the eight percent
that did, and said OK, why did they get rearrested? And so we modified our tool after that first
quarter, and we created, you know our tool had basically four levels of release. Out and out
release, release with program supervision, release with electronic supervision, or release with a
house arrest. And so we had to modify that to create youth advocates. Because that eight percent
that re-committed a crime didn't commit a crime of violence. And so we felt that like with
supervision maybe they wouldn't have committed a crime. And so we created youth advocates which
were surrogate parents. You know, it was their job to get up in the morning, knock on the door
and say get up, you have to go to school. It's their job to check on that child two or three
times a day to make sure they're at school. It's their job to pick that child up after school and
take them home. It's their job to make sure that child gets to their counseling, to their mental
health services. And people say where did that money come from? We took the savings from putting
kids in detention, set that in a separate pot, and we said we're not going to pay you a pretty
salary. We're going to pay you by the contact. Every time you touch that child you're going to
get $50. So you know we noticed that towards the weekend there were more touches. Which is a
good thing, because when we looked at our crime trends, towards the weekend there was more of a
need for touching. And so we created programs that we thought would deal with our immediate needs
for those children. From that, we looked into our other programs and, you know, we found that
pre-disposition, our non-recidivism rate was averaging around 82%, which we thought was
phenomenal. And so how do you get that into your post-disposition? And what we learned
immediately was that you can't start with post. You have to start with that initial contact. And
you have to have that individual follow that child, or those individuals follow that child all the
way through. We also learned that we had stupid policies that created failure. I believe that
any time you're in court, the least-informed person is the judge. And people don't like to
challenge a judge. And I think that's poor decision-making. I don't believe that judges want to
make bad decisions. I just think judges have bad information. And I think that if you give the
judge the information that he needs, or that she needs to make the proper decision, they will.
And so we started looking at that, and we started challenging judge's perceptions and judge's
beliefs and giving them data to show why this is a better outcome... Chartock: Give us an
example of that. Bell: Our risk assessment tool. I'd say if you're arrested with a handgun, you
should be detained throughout your disposition, which could be up to thirty days. We piloted that
program. I believe in baby steps. You start small and then you grow bigger, because you're able
to correct smaller programs more expeditiously. So we held those kids, and we held them until
their dispositions, and we started this pilot program with our RAT. Let's just agree that for 90
days we're not going to hold them, we're going to abide by our RAT and if the RAT says hold them,
we'll hold them. If the RAT says release them, we'll release them. The RAT said release those
kids. We released every one of those kids, and two of those kids recommitted a crime, and that
crime was criminal trespass. They were not a risk to public safety. Now, certainly, they needed
supervision, and we released them with supervision. We released them with two forms, the
electronic monitoring and with the youth advocate. But they didn't pose... They were caught
with a weapon. They weren't caught robbing someone, breaking into someone's house. They weren't
caught shoving it in someone's face. They had a weapon. And otherwise they wouldn't been held.
And as a result of that, we found that we could better treat those children in the community. We
could then find out the cause of them feeling like they had to have that weapon. We could save
the taxpayers dollars, and we could still preserve public safety. Chartok: When you say, just
for the radio audience when you say the RAT says, you're talking about... Bell: The risk
assessment instrument. The RAT is... What happens traditionally in jurisdictions is that you
have a judge that decides whether a child will be detained or will not be detained, or held in
secure care pending their trial date or their next court appearance. We created a risk assessment
tool that's an independent, doesn't care what race you are, doesn't care what neighborhood you
come from, what your zip code is. It scores your risk of recommitting an offense, or your risk of
failure to appear before the court. Based on that it tells us whether you should be released
outright, whether you should be released with a condition, or conditions, or whether you should be
detained. Chartok: So what are some of the criteria in the RAT? Bell: The offense is one of
the criteria. Whether you're on probation or not is a criteria. Whether you've been previously
arrested and if so, how long it's been since you've been previously arrested. Whether it was a
crime against a person or, you know, against property is a criteria. There are various criterias,
and then there are offsetting points, like no prior arrest, we'll deduct a point. School
attendance we looked at but it was so subjective because some schools keep good records, some
schools keep bad records. Things like that. Chartok: Well you've raised so many trails to go
down, I don't know which one to go down next. Let's talk a little bit about race as a... You
said that you don't use that as a criteria in the risk assessment, and yet we see in so many
jurisdictions that race means a lot in terms of prediction. I wonder if you could speak to that.
Bell: Yeah, I mean some people believe that that's the point at which race becomes a factor, when
you're determining whether or not this child's going to be detained or not. But the reality is
race is a factor as soon as the police pulls the child over, stops the child. Disproportionate
minority contact is just that, contact. I believe for instance, that in most jurisdictions it's
illegal for caucasian children to commit crimes. That's the only logical conclusion. We've allowed
in this country poor policing for years. It's no secret that, you know, zero tolerance districts
for instance, I mean... People look at what they do to that community you know.. Broken Windows,
I think, you know, I think zero tolerance is just like saying zero intelligence. We can't figure
out how to deal with this issue so we're just going to lock you up for it. Broken Windows, the
same thing. Follow me through this journey, if you will. You arrest a child for a stupid
offense, or an adult for that matter, criminal trespass or disturbing the peace or loitering, for
whatever. A couple of things happen when you arrest that individual. Number one, they feel like
they've been arrested for something stupid, so they now have a bad relationship with law
enforcement. Number two, it creates crime in that area, or increased crime stats. Those
increased crime stats ultimately discourage economic development because business does not want to
locate where crime is. As a result of crime and a lack of economic development in the area,
property values drop, which means the city's tax rolls drop. When property values drop you can't
get good eductation, you can't get infrastructure. And so we wind up having this ripple effect
that we've never tried to really measure scientifically to determine what happens in that
district. But even worse than all those things, when something really does happen, and the police
really need your involvement to solve that crime, and they come and they say hey, David, I know
you know what happened last night, you know what I'm thinking? Dude, you're arresting me for
standing on my neighbor's porch. So I'm not going to talk to you because I don't have trust in
you. I don't have faith with you and I don't have a relationship with you. Then you have the
other side of town where they have... In New Orleans they call them crime prevention districts.
They're weird to me. They're always your upper-income neighborhoods. The kids never look like me
in those neighborhoods. But the name is what fascinates me. Crime prevention district. Their
job is to prevent crime from happening. And if crime occurrs, that means they failed at doing
their job. So in those districts police officers do their jobs the right way. They stop and they
say hey, Joe White, you know you're not supposed to do that. Don't do it again because the next
time, I might arrest you. The second time they say hey, Joe White, I've warned you one time. Now
I'm going to take you to your parents house. And they take them to the parent's house and they
have a converstaion. Hey, Joe was smoking weed a week ago. I told him not to, he kept doing it.
I found him doing it again, so I'm bringing him home. You guys fix it so we don't have to. And
they do their jobs the right way. And in those communities weird things happen. Property values
increase because there's no crime. Teachers want to work in those neighborhoods because they're
safe. Economic development occurrs in those neighborhoods because property values increase.
Families are stable in those communities. It's a ripple efffect that we never look at. Chartok:
In the middle of the night, do ever worry about being Willie Horton-ed? In other words, one kid
does something really bad, and the newspapers now say it's the judge's fault. Bell: You know,
let me tell you, I look forward to being Willie Horton-ed. Because think about it... If in all the
programs that you have one kid does something really bad, doesn't that really say that's a great
program? I mean, you can't allow... I say perception creates... Public perception sort of
creates reality. But if you collect date, if you analyze data, when that one case occurs you can
say you're right, one kid did do this heinous crime, but we have 267 kids in this program, so we
have a 99.97% success rate with these kids. So should we now discontinue this program or this
policy because one kid did bad? Or should we acknowledge that this one kid is an anomaly? I can
tell you this, one kid's going to always do bad. My wife had a dental issue and she went to her
best friend who was her dentist. And she did a botched-up job, so she went to another dentist.
But we didn't say that all dentists are bad, let's get rid of them. One dentist did something
bad. One police officer does something bad, judges do stuff bad... There's one bad everything in
every bunch, so why should kids be any different? Look at the data, don't buy the public
perception, create the story based on facts. Give them the number of kids that are in that
program. Give them the success rates for that program. Give them the failure rates for that
program. And always take ownership. I believe in ownership. The programs that we have that are
good, we own. The programs that we have that are bad, we own. But we own them as a system
together. We're not going to say, oh, that was their responsibility, or that was their
responsibility, or that was their responsibility... Because if we're all working towards one
goal, we shouldn't try to shift blame. We should just accept it and say, you know, that means I need
to to my job better. Because that's really what it means. Kids are weird. They do what you want
them to do. Chartok: We are talking with Chief Judge David L. Bell of the Orleans Parish
Juvenile Court in New Orleans, Louisiana. So, how about money? Are you saving money, or are you
spending more money? Bell: Well that depends on whose money you're talking about. Chartok: How
about the taxpayer money? Bell: That's what I was hoping you were talking about. We're spending
about two-thirds less taxpayer dollars than we were pre-Katrina, and we're getting a much better
outcome. Our worst recidivism rate right now is around 82 - 85%. So I think that we're spending
less dollars and getting a better outcome. Pre-Katrina our average daily population hovered
around 152 kids that are in secure care or detention. Right now, our average population, through
April, was 32... 33, I apologize, we're a little bit higher than that right now. I can't give an exact
number as of today because we haven't desegregated that data yet. And we're taking those dollars
and we're spending them on community-based placements and community-based programming... Youth
advocates, the evening reporting center, electronic supervision, a truancy center for kids that
don't go to school, youth advocates for kids that need services within their home... Not one new
taxpayer dollar. We're able to better serve kids. We're able to better serve families... You
know we had stupid policies before that, you know... A child had to commit a crime in order to
appear before the court or in order to receive services in one of our programs. You know, we got
rid of those things because I felt, or we felt that those were encouraging kids to commit crimes.
Now all that has to happen is a teacher has to call, a neighbor has to call... Anyone can call
and say hey, can you guys check out Dave's house? I think they don't have food there, I think his
mom's on drugs. And within 72 hours we'll send someone to Dave's house just to check in on him.
And that person comes back and says you know, this familiy does have some struggles. They might
not have legal issues, but these are the things that I observed. And then we try to put in place
a plan to keep that kid from coming into our system, which ultimately saves our system and our
taxpayers dollars. Chartok: Now we know there's some industries in New York State, for example,
who try to close down a prison, and you see there's a tremendous response to that. You know,
you're talking food out of our mouths; there's correction officers and others... And then comes
the rationale for why we should keep prisons open. Has there been any of that? Bell: I wonder
what would happen if you did close down the prisons. But you just employ the corrections officers
to do a different job. Who says that closing down a prison means you have to lose jobs? I've
never understoon that. Who says that corrections officers can't be trained to be counselors?
Can't be trained to be compliance officers? Who says corrections officers can only be
corrections officers? Corrections officers I bet would be great police officers in some
instances, great counselors, great advocates. Corrections officers certainly know what's wrong
with corrections from the internal side. I've never been a corrections officer but I imagine I'd
rather be in the community as opposed to a cement building all day, every day. What would happen
if you just took a pilot program and said, you know, we're going to take 25 corrections officers
and see how they work out as youth advocates, or see how they work out as school-based liaisons?
I mean, what would happen? Would the world crumble, would the system collapse? You might find
out that they have, I don't know, other skills and traits that could be better serviced, or better
utilized in other avenues. Chartok: Now, Judge Bell, you are here because, of course, you have
quite a reputation around the United States as being somewhat of a miracle worker. But the
question I have for you is, is that recognized within your own political community? Bell: Well,
first off I didn't know I was a miracle worker. Chartok: That's what they told me when they told
me to interview. Bell: I think if you wanted to give me credit for something it would be for
being wise enough to pull together a team of talented people that were dedicated to children, as
opposed to being a miracle worker. I think that's the only miracle that we worked. In our local
community we've enjoyed great successes because we've been able to show, through the collection of
data, the outcomes for children. Juvenile crime has dropped in our parish every year since 2005,
and it continues to decline. And so we were proud, because we were comparing our 2005 pre-Katrina
with our 2007 data and our 2008 data and Bart says, who cares? You're supposed to compare 2007
with 2006... Chartok: And for those people listening on the radio, Judge, Bart is...? Bell: Bart Lubow of the
Anne E. Casey Foundation. So we started comparing our data from year to year, and we were even
more proud of the results. And so we took that data, and we took it to the city council, we took
it to private foundations, we took it to funders, we took it to non-profits and said this is why
you should invest in our children. This is why you should invest in our programs. And as a
result of us doing that, we built better relationships with our non-profit community, with
foundations that were looking to expend dollars. And we also lowered the burden that the taxpayer
had to bear. You'd be amazed at how many non-profits are there in your community that service the
kids that you have in care, and you're trying to replicate those same services. Their funding
oftentimes is based on the number of children and families that they're able to service, and so by
us trying to service those kids in-house, we're actually taking money away from those funders, and
we're actually keeping kids before us that shouldn't be before us. So I think that we've enjoyed
a much better relationship in our community, and a much better opinion in our community than we
did pre-Katrina. Chartok: So has crime gone down? I think you said juvenile crime has, but has
crime gone down as a result of this, as opposed to as a result of Katrina? Bell: That was a
major issue. Did crime go down as a result of you losing your population, or did crime go down as
a result of your programs? The answer is two-fold. Yes, and yes. Crime went down as a result of
us losing our population for the eight months immediately after Hurricane Katrina because no one
was in the city. Crime went down to zero. Now, when we look at crime, we look at crime based on
our pre-Katrina population versus our current population, and we look at crime trends based on
that. When you do that, crime has dropped every year, post Hurricane Katrina. And I'll remind
you, 80% of our population, approximately 80% of our population has returned. We're up above
300,000 now, whereas we were right above 400,000 pre-Katrina. And when I say eighty percent I
mean in the hurricane-affected areas, in the communities, you know, Central City, you know the
areas that we experiened pre-Katrina, major instances of crime. So I think Yes and Yes would be
the appropriate answer. Chartok: I was trying to get you into trouble by talking about the
legislature and whether they've been cooperative...? Bell: We're a State District Court that's
situated in a Parish, but our State Legislature doesn't fund our court functions. The local
government funds our court functions. Our State Legislature funds secure care in the State of
Louisiana. Now, the State of Louisiana, in 2004, reformed their juvenile justice facilities, and
closed down one, and they're in the process of closing down another one, now. And we went from a
position of having in excess of 1000 secure beds to having, I think about 522 or 532 secure care placements
right now. And so that's a movement that I can't credit for. That's a movement that took place
before I took the bench. Right now our state is, we're very concerned because our Department of
Juvenile Justice has to take a 12-million dollar budget cut this year. Actually, it's a
15.3-million dollar budget cut as a result of the economy. Now, federal stimulus dollars are
going to plug in 3.2-million of that budget cut, so that still leaves a 12-million dollar cut.
And one of the things that our Office of Juvenile Justice has done is that they've cut all dollars
for children that are transitioning back into the community, which is a major concern, because you
can't bring children back into the community without services and expect them not to recommit an
offense. And so, realizing that that was going to happen, we convinced the Office of Juvenile
Justice to do two things. One is they have another pool of money, from 35- - 45 million dollars,
and we want them to look at those programs. We're going through the process now of figuring out
what works and what doesn't work for those programs. And from what doesn't work, let's just not
fund that, and let's roll those dollars back into these kids that are transitioning back into the
community. But just as importantly is we've gone to the community and we've said hey, we need
transitional spots, and we need educational spots, we need mental health spots, we need substance
abuse spots. So we need to look at this collaboration again and figure out who can plug these
holes for us. There were 25 slots for kids in Orleans Parish, and Jefferson Parish, our
neighboring Parish - we call counties parishes. And so that's about 12 and a half for each of us.
And so we're working right now on a collaboration to try and address those needs, prior to
children transitioning back into the community without services because, certainly, we want our
children home, but we also don't want our children to recommit an offense when they return home.
Chartok: So you mentioned Anne E. Casey and some of the others. Have you spent a lot of time
getting money from not-for-profits? Yeah, I mean less that a quarter of my budget comes from the
city right now, comes from government. And the rest of my moeny is from foundations, from
non-profits, from community resources... And a lot of our dollars are what I would call in-kind
services. What I mean when I say in-kind services is going out into the cummunity, partnering
with non-profits that have a specific need that they have to service and saying, OK, we're going
to give you access to our emplyees for transportation purposes; we're going to give you access to
our educational liaison for school purposes, and you give us access to your facilities for mental
health counseling, for substance abuse treatment, for parenting classes. People... There's
this... There're two big lies that we allow to just constantly be perpetrated. That this is an
issue ofpublic safety, you know, if we release these kids they're a public safety concern, these
kids need to be incarcerated for public safety. Seventy-two percent of them don't. It's just bad
decisions that adults make because we're being penal in nature. And the other lie is it costs a
lot of money to reform a sytem. It doesn't. It requires that we better spend our money. It
requires that we hold our employees accountable for building community-based relationships. It
requires that we give our employees the tools to be successful, and not overwork them by having
them supervise kids they don't need to supervise. Chartok: Are we devloping the right kinds of
advocates for children, either in law schools or in social work schools or other places? Bell: I
certainly think that we're doing a better job than we used to do. You know, I think that people
are realizing that the policies of the past are policies of failure. If you keep doing what
you've been doing, you're going to keep getting what you've always gotten. And I think that
people have now become more innovative. And I think that people are more forward-thinking today
than perhaps they used to be on criminal justice issues, on public safety isssues, and on juvenile
justice issues. And so I think that if people... I think that if the administration would allow
the staff to help them design programs that would reduce their workload, that were outcome driven,
you'd have a phenomenal end-result. And you'd see great reductions on an annual basis, probably
before that on a semi-annual basis, of your kids that were being placed in detention centers, your
kids that were being place in secure settings, or your kids that were being placed in residential
settings. Chartok: So, what's next for you, Judge David L. Bell? Where do you want to go next?
Bell: You know, being honest with you, I like being a daddy. I dont' have a problem with being
where I am. I have 48,500 school-aged children in Orleans Parish. We went from a position,
you know in the first eight months pre-Katrina 8,500 of them were arrested and brought before our
court, to a little over a thousand of them last year. So I kind of like where I am, Iike my
parental role, and I think that I have a lot of work to do. I mean, we have some detention reform
that needs to take place in our parish. We have an issue with disproportionate minority contact.
Although crime is dropping it's not at all as low as we anticipated it be. There's some
relationships that we're still fostering and building with our school systems. We have a lot of
work to do in Orleans Parish. We've come a long way, but haven't made it halfway through our
journey as of yet. Chartok: Maybe you could speak just for another minute or two on that
disproportionate contact based on race. Bell: You know, I wish I knew the answer. Because
that's an issue that most jurisdictions are not prepared to deal with because it begins with
people saying that we have problems that involve issues of race, which means that we have
officers, and we have probation officers, and we have judges and all these people that have racial
tendencies, racial beliefs, as opposed to us just saying you know what, let's just step back. I
mean it's a simple solution, it really is. Put a camera in every police officer's car. And every
contact gets an item number or an incident number, and then log data based on those contacts.
That tells you exactly how many officers are having inappropriate contact. That shows you a
picture of the inappropriate contact. That helps you determine whether there was probable cause
for the stop. So many things that a simple camera can do. There's so many things that requiring
that incident number can do, because that incident number can make them log that. And then we can
look at it, and from a data-driven standpoint we can say OK, this is where our problem is.
Chartok: So, as a judge, could you just... Nobody's listening. Could you give us an insight
into something that you've seen that could've been done, on a police officer's... Now you're
sitting there as a judge. Police officer comes before you. The case is up there and you've seen
something that you really don't like. Bell: School-based offenses. First off, I don't think
that anything that happens in a school that doesn't involve a major amount of drugs or a firearm
should ever be before a court. Because now we're not allowing principals to be principals, deans
to be deans, instructors to be instructors... We're now taking their obligation. So, but a
school-based fight comes to the court and they have school-based resources officers, which are law
enforcement officers that sit at the school. If you remember back in the eighties they started to
protect the children at the schools, and it grew from them protecting children to them arresting
children at schools. This officer, in the process of breaking up the fight, grabs a young lady by
her ponytail, slams her down to the floor, throws her arm behind her back, puts his knee in her
back, and then lifts her by the cuffs. The fight was over. The girl was talking to the
disciplinarian. The officer walked up late. The girl was loud, she was emotional, she was
throwing her arms around, and he grabbed her. I don't think that was appropriate. I don't think
it was appropriate for that child to get arrested for battery on a police officer when that child
did what was natural. After a fight, someone accosted her from the rear and snatched her and drug
her to the ground. I would've hit him, too. That would be an incidence to me of improper police
conduct. And having said that, these offenses occur all the time, with children, with law
enforcement officers. And most of the time they're handled appropriately. But every now and then
they're not, so that was just one example of one officer handling something inappropriately. In
my opinion. Chartock: The last question I have before we have to go from this incredibly
interesting conversation is how do we export what you have done, and I wonder if you've thought
about that? Export what you've done to the rest of the country. Bell: You know, I didn't do
anything amazing. I didn't do anything special. I stole what worked in other jurisdictions. We
picked up the telephone, we called the Casey Foundation, we said we needed some help. They said
go to the JDI Help Desk, see what you like, we stole from there, we reworked it to fit our needs.
That's it. Chartok: So if some guy named Barack Obama called you on the telephone and said
judge, I hear good things about this, what should we do for the whole country in order to get
others to steal from you as you have stolen from them, what would you tell him? Bell: Give me
that GM bailout money. Give me... That's the solution, dollars. Chartok: Well, we've had a
wonderful conversation. This is Allan Chartok. I've been talking with Chief Judge David L. Bell
of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court in Louisiana. Judge Bell, an amazing man, I may say,
oversaw the rebuilding of New Orleans juvenile court and juvenile justice system after its staff
and infrastructure were gutted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005. Judge it's
been a real pleasure, thank you so much for being with us. Bell: Likewise, thank you for
having me.