Niki Roberts, who was most recently appointed chief of the Juvenile Division in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, said she knows Juvenile Court “inside and out.”
For the past 12 years, she’s worked in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, where she has tried more than 500 juvenile cases. Now she wants to use her “invaluable experience” as the next Juvenile Court judge.
The first thing she would do, Roberts said, would be to listen to what parents of juvenile offenders say about their kids.
“Parents aren’t always listened to when they ask for different kinds of help for these kids. We need to do things differently,” Roberts said. “I have seen kids cycle in and out of the system when maybe they shouldn’t have.”
As a judge, she plans to change that cycle by catering to each child individually. She said she would advocate for vocational training for kids who need an alternative to traditional schools, mentoring for kids on probation, and an evening reporting center where kids can do homework after school in a secure, stable environment.
Roberts is one of several candidates running for Juvenile Court in Orleans Parish. The race attracted six contenders after the incumbent, Judge Yolanda King, was charged with filing a false public record. She’s accused of lying about where she lived on the paperwork she filed to run for her 2013 campaign. She was suspended from the bench after she was indicted in March.
The court enforces the Louisiana Children’s Code, the portion of state law that pertains to children. They hear cases regarding abuse, neglect, juvenile delinquency, adoption, child support and other matters. Children under the age of 17 who are charged with crimes are seen in Juvenile Court, although they can be sent to adult court if they’re older than 14 and are charged with certain violent crimes.
Although there are fewer than 400 children in prison-like facilities these days compared to more than 2,000 in the late 1990s, Roberts said many of them shouldn’t even be sent there.
Violent offenders who commit crimes like murder, armed robbery or rape will always need to be in places like youth prisons, Roberts said. For nonviolent offenders, she advocates for better counseling services, stricter curfews or treatment in places that more closely resemble a home.
Roberts said that as a judge, she would take a hard look at vocational training.
“I think we need to be cognizant of the fact that there’s a population of kids coming through Juvenile Court that the traditional education route will not benefit,” she said. “I found during my time as prosecutor that kids are being told they have to go to school or get a GED as conditions of probation. These kids come in and say, ‘I have to work.’”
Finally, Roberts said that the system needs more money to ensure that children get the kind of care that keeps them out of court. As judge, she said she would advocate for better after-school programs and more mentoring services.
“We cannot continue to not pay attention to our kids and continue to take away the little resources we’re willing to give them,” Roberts said. “Our kids are important, and we need to give them things.”
Roberts earned $67,962 last year at her job with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, according to her most recent financial disclosure form.