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A job few want: Qualified applicants remove themselves from juvenile center openings

The interim director said that many of the applicants take their names out of consideration when they learn of the modest pay and challenging duties.

NEW ORLEANS — Amid a surge in violent crime by teenagers in New Orleans, there's been a push to alleviate chronic staff shortages city's juvenile lockup, known as the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, also known as JJIC.

But Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her administration Tuesday failed to convince a city council committee to lift JJIC’s residency requirement when council members learned that since 2019 hundreds of local applicants passed all civil service qualifications, yet weren’t hired.

Using Civil Service statistics first compiled by WWL-TV, the council learned that 869 applicants successfully passed all the requirements, but only 61 of those applicants have been hired since Jan. 2019.

Most have been dropped from the list after the one-year hiring window closed, the records show, but 110 remain eligible to be hired at the struggling lockup.

Those statistics led council members to ask tough questions of the administrations representatives at the meeting, led by JJIC’s interim director Dichelle Williams. Williams has been at the helm of the facility since March 18, when Director Kyshun Webster took a leave of absence.

The at-times contentious hearing went for more than two hours, but City Council President Helena Moreno went straight to the point in questioning Williams.

“So if you have 48 openings and over 100 people on the qualified list, why aren't you hiring?”

“We're actually having interviews Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Williams answered.

Williams went on to explain that many candidates take themselves out of the running for counselor jobs when they learn about the modest pay, which starts at about $40,000 per year, and the challenging job duties.

“We send out an interest letter inviting candidates to interview. Twelve may accept, three may show up,” Williams said.

Council Vice-President J.P. Morrell said he is reluctant to go forward without hearing from Webster, who remains employed by the city at full pay.

“For him not to be present to comment on how things happened under his tenure there is very troubling,” Morrell said.

Morrell said his next step is to subpoena Webster to appear before the full council.

Councilman Oliver Thomas, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, pointed out that the residency requirement was lifted for the New Orleans Police Department after Hurricane Katrina, but the NOPD now sits at its lowest troop strength in its modern history. 

The proposal could be raised again, but its future is in doubt after nobody would the second the motion after council member Freddie King offered it.

No reason was given for Webster's absence and he could not be reached for comment.

RELATED: State senator wants juvenile facility closed after repeated break outs

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