Judge Orders Sheriff Susan Hutson to Transport Inmates to Court When Requested Regardless of Staffing Issues

Orleans Justice Center
Photo Credit: Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office

Judge Laurie White has ordered Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson to transfer inmates to Criminal District Court when requested, in spite of persistent staffing issues at the jail. Earlier this week, Hutson told local media outlet WWL-TV that “critically dangerous lows” in staffing had forced her office to send incarcerated defendants to each section of court only twice per week – something that White says is unacceptable.

White scheduled a hearing for Monday, Oct. 17, to give Hutson a chance to explain why inmates can’t be transferred to their court hearings four days a week.

The ruling comes just days after US District Magistrate Judge Michael North warned Hutson regarding her lack of transparency on issues that are going on at the Justice Center, including overdoses, acts of violence, and suicide attempts.

“We still have no information as to what’s being done to investigate these problems and why they continue to happen,” North said during a status conference regarding efforts to bring the Orleans Justice Center into compliance with reforms mandated by the court in 2013. This isn’t the first time North has rebuked the sheriff’s office on this issue; he previously spoke out on the lack of transparency regarding a homicide and suicide in June, as well as a series of stabbings and a three-day prisoner protest in August.

“We know transparency needs to be improved,” said Grahm Bosworth, legal counsel for the sheriff’s office, noting that both the federal monitors and the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans have been given access to internal systems at the Justice Center allowing them to view incident reports and deputy body camera recordings.

According to Hutson, the jail is currently staffed at less than 50 percent. At the same time, the number of inmates is increasing, with more than 200 inmates housed at the jail now than were there when Hutson took office in May.

“We are dealing with 200 to 300 more people, but we are down in staffing,” Hutson told WWL. “So what does that tell you? That’s even more of a serious staffing issue for us.”

However, failing to bring inmates to their court-mandated appearances only serves to exacerbate the problem, forcing some inmates to stay incarcerated for longer than necessary while they await their day in court. However, Hutson said that she can only stretch her available staff so far while maintaining proper security at the jail.

As a solution, Hutson plans to present a plan to the city council that includes increasing deputy pay from $15 per hour to $20 – something that was also one of her campaign promises.

“…if lifeguards are making that, surely deputies should be able to make that,” Hutson said.

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