NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— In the five months that Susan Hutson has been Orleans Parish Sheriff, there have been inmate fights, deaths, and even a riot.
And while those events have happened, the sheriff’s office is also facing a manpower shortage — a similar challenge faced by many other law enforcement agencies.
Hutson also blames an inadequately designed jail facility for some of the issues that the agency is dealing with and gave WGNO an exclusive tour of the facility on Monday (Oct. 10).
“This has been known since this facility opened that some simple mesh across the top, similar to what you have in the middle. Some simple mesh across the middle, will keep people from being able to stand on top of that and jump,” said Hutson, speaking to some of the design inadequacies.
Back in June, an inmate took his life by jumping over one of the rails.
Hutson allowed WGNO to tour a refurbished Pod 2E, the same area of the jail where a protest started after inmates broke a sprinkler and flooded the pod.
The sheriff says about 3 million dollars in upgrades need to be made to all 24 pods in order that inmates are safe, and to maximize the number of staff to man the pods.
Compounding the issues is a lack of staffing. The department recently lost a number of ranking deputies with decades of experience, but Hutson says the changes were necessary.
According to Hutson, “Looking at how it works or isn’t working and then I had to make some changes last month because we had to remove supervisors who weren’t doing their jobs and promote folks who were ready to make those changes that I came in to make.”
In addition to the jail, a significant function of the agency is providing security at the courthouses and transporting inmates to courts.
And while judges at criminal court desire the pre-COVID number of cases to be heard, the sheriff says this is not possible.
In fact, the sheriff sent a letter to judges last month, notifying them that the number of deputies on hand prevents an increase in inmate transfers.
Hutson said, “If I bring people over there to the court, we need to be disposing of their cases. We can’t bring people over for resets on anything like that. So we’ve asked our partners in the system, that’s the judges, the district attorney, the public defender. We’ve asked them to be efficient in these processes so that we can get cases moving, get them into trial, and move the system along.”