OPPRC Sheriff’s Forum Showcases Need for Systemic Change

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More than 100 members and supporters of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition and their partnering organizations came together Thursday night to hear from the candidates for sheriff “who cared enough to show up” – former Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, a Democrat, and perennial candidate Quentin Brown Jr., an Independent. Flozell Daniels, president of the Foundation for Louisiana, asked insightful questions to both the candidates. 

“New Orleanians deserve a sheriff who not only vows to change the appalling conditions of the Orleans Justice Center while listening to the community, but also one that commits to promotion alternatives to incarceration, preventing the criminalization of Black New Orleanians and more,” said Sade Dumas, OPPRC Executive Director, in advance of the forum.

Because Sheriff Marlin Gusman did not participate in the forum, both candidates used this opportunity to dissect what they consider Gusman’s many failures during his more than 15 years in office. What candidate Quentin Brown Jr. lacked in law enforcement experience, he made up for in enthusiasm. In his most dramatic statement, Brown said he entered the race because of New Orleans’ crime problem. “I will die for your safety. I will stop crime. I will make the city safe again.” Brown believes that “we need (sheriff’s) deputies on the street.” 

He also pledges to be at the front door of the jail to closely monitor the intake system which will ensure that individuals with drug or alcohol problems get the services they need. Brown said he also values transparency and says he will be a hands-on sheriff.  Brown was adamant that he would stop the new special needs jail and took a swipe at Gusman by saying that the sheriff should be a “people person.” Brown also slammed the current sheriff for the alleged recording of inmate phone conversations and said it was “a failure of leadership” when transgender inmates were improperly housed. He also claims that the current crop of deputies are “not being trained the right way” and that they should treat the people right.”

“God is on my side,” said Brown. “He is going to make this election happen for me.” Brown, 52, further proclaimed that he was the only candidate who could beat Gusman. “If I am not in the runoff with Marlin Gusman, he wins.” 

Former OIG Susan Hutson probably feels the same way about her chances to beat Gusman. This forum was tailor-made for Hutson. For the most part, Hutson and OPPRC are in unison on the major issues. Hutson understands that community groups like OPPRC are an important component of the criminal justice system and should be respected. 

Hutson repeated her mantra of Care, Custody, and Control and enthusiastically wove in her signature phrase “We can do better. We must do better.” She spoke earnestly about the “deplorable conditions” at the Orleans Justice Center. “Nothing operates appropriately. We’re gonna change that,” she said. Hutson spoke about transparency and accountability and the importance of listening to community leadership. “I will listen to you. I will follow you. I will be the positive leader who will fulfill your platform,” Hutson proclaimed. She talked about the need for inmates to have access to  a good education as well as mental and health care services, which she currently claims are “substandard.”

Hutson spoke of the eight-year federal consent decree, its lack of completion and what it has cost taxpayers. She believes that transgender inmates should not be classified by their genitalia and that 80 percent of inmates have underlying mental health issues that must be addressed. “Solitary confinement harms people mentally. We’ve got to stop that,” Hutson said. She also berated Gusman regarding the alleged taping of inmate conversations and she wrote to federal Judge Lance Africk about why a new jail was not necessary. “He [Gusman] had a chance to build it right in the first place,” Hutson said. 

She also believes that Gusman was influenced to build the facility by his campaign donors who might benefit from the project and that $8 million in staff costs to operate the proposed facility was an unnecessary expense. Hutson said that addiction is a life-long battle that doesn’t go away with one treatment and that the supervisors working with the addicted inmates must be changed because they provide “a substandard level of care.”

Hutson explained that she would not cooperate with ICE to house undocumented immigrants and that 80 percent of inmates committed “quality of life” crimes. “We must provide them safe housing, education and transportation” to help rebuild their lives. “The constitutional standards of the Orleans Justice Center are on the floor not the ceiling. I am running on a platform of change,” Hutson concluded.

OPPRC drafted a New Orleans sheriff platform they are widely sharing with local voters. The platform focuses on three major tenants: New Orleanians deserve a sheriff who will listen to the community and implement best practices, who should promote alternatives to incarceration through community collaboration, and who should prioritize families, community wellness and justice for those harmed.

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