The new sheriff promises prison reforms; political analyst discusses challenges

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Susan Hutson took the helm of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and sprawling prison complex on Monday in an early evening ribbon-cutting ceremony and now she’ll begin to put her mark on the prison. But a political analyst says Hutson is not the sole decision-maker on some of the reforms she has promised.

In a runoff in December 2021, Hutson, a former freelance police monitor from New Orleans, overthrew longtime sheriff Marlin Gusman. She won 53% of the vote against 47% for Gusman.

Mike Sherman is FOX 8’s political analyst.

“Susan Hutson pulled off the unimaginable by beating an incumbent sheriff on a platform from the criminal justice reform movement, now the challenge begins as she tries to implement many of these ideas from the campaign trail,” Sherman said.

With Hutson, the town has its first female sheriff. As a former prosecutor and defense attorney, she says she’s up for the challenge of overseeing the struggling prison.

Hutson strongly opposes plans to add a medical and mental health facility to the upgraded prison and instead believes that the current complex could be upgraded to achieve this.

Days before the second round of the election, FOX 8 asked Hutson how she hoped to prevent construction of Phase 3 of the prison given that a federal judge had ordered it done. The prison remains under a federal consent decree.

“Well, what I want the judge to know is that we will have all the structures in place to comply with this consent decree within 12 months and the most important part of the sheriff not being able to comply with the mental health part of the consent decree is bodies,” Hutson said.

Sherman says Hutson doesn’t have the power to do any of what she campaigned on.

“Some of the ideas that Susan Hutson supported during the election campaign are going to be very difficult to implement because she does not have the authority as a sheriff to do these things unilaterally. That will be her biggest challenge at the start of the campaign. administration,” he said.

He was asked what some of Hutson’s top priorities should be.

“I think the first challenge for the Sheriff will be building a great management team and then the basics of what it takes to run a day-to-day prison with a large and ever-changing prison population. I think the boldest criminal justice reform ideas are going to take time and it’s not weeks or months, it’s years,” Hutson said.

Hutson’s campaign platform calls for more training for prison guards and she wants sheriff’s deputies to help the New Orleans Police Department.

“It’s about training to get them ready and out on the streets and we’ll do that as soon as possible,” Hutson said on election night.

Aside from the reforming spirit, she takes over as sheriff as the violent crimes outrage the townspeople.

Sherman was asked if Hutson might face a backlash from the community if she tries to make reforms that appear soft on criminals.

“The nationwide reform movement is at a pivotal moment,” Sherman said.

He said that across the country, some officials were backtracking on “bold promises” to reduce incarceration and not try minors as adults.

“So it will be interesting to see if Susan Hutson can continue to implement these reform policies when many voters, even her supporters, are concerned about the crime wave we find ourselves in,” Sherman said.

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