Seeking to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, the New Orleans City Council has approved the administration's plans to mentor, not jail, troubled teenagers.

But council members pressed officials from Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration Thursday to explain just who would be eligible for that support and faulted her team for not hashing out those and other details earlier.

And one member said the new facility where the mentoring would occur should not be used to "coddle" teens who have committed violent crimes.

"Just because you are under a certain age does not mean that you can't damage the community, and damage someone’s life, and I think we need to be mindful of that," Councilman Jay H. Banks said.

His comments came a day after police said a 17-year-old shot a couple who tried to stop him from breaking into their car in Mid-City, killing the woman and wounding the man. The arrested youth, Emanuel Pipkins, had been arrested in a separate auto burglary in April and had a previous aggravated assault charge.

At issue is a facility heralded by Cantrell and the council last year as a way to keep young people involved in petty crimes out of the city's "juvenile jail," which has been plagued by reports of mismanagement and violence.

Cantrell has tapped consultants to overhaul that facility, known as the Youth Study Center.

But in addition, her team envisions a center where students would be provided meals, homework help, mentoring and information about mental health services. Officials refer to it as an "evening reporting center" and describe it as "a nonsecure alternative for youth pending adjudication."

But while money for that facility was included in this year's budget, the administration has yet to finalize the policies by which it would be run, council members said.

"We budgeted for this ... but we have been waiting for five months," Councilman Jared Brossett said. "We are ready to move forward, and we would like to see action and more details."

The council asked Cantrell's team to say within a week which teens would be eligible for the new center and how it would jibe with plans Cantrell has floated for enforcing a juvenile curfew.

Members nevertheless approved an agreement with the Youth Empowerment Project to manage the center for three years, at a maximum cost of $300,000 annually.

Under that agreement, Youth Empowerment Project personnel would tell the teens who attend the center about mental health or drug rehabilitation services provided by other agencies but would not be expected to recognize, diagnose or treat medical needs on site.

Youth Empowerment Project would provide meals, transportation and programs to the students who participate. The organization would also have to report to the city how many young people were connected to services through the center and how many successfully complete the program. 


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.