Perhaps in one of the strangest twists this local election season has brought, the race for sheriff has attracted Charles Foti, whose name was at one time synonymous with the Orleans Parish Prison after 30 years as criminal sheriff, from 1974 until 2004, when he resigned after election as the state’s attorney general.
In addition to the 76-year-old Foti—the person many say allowed the jail to slip into the a derelict condition under his three decades as its leader, the incumbent Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who now had the job for nearly 10 years, faces challenges from local school board member Ira Thomas and perennial longshot candidate Quentin Brown.
Continued implementation of a federal consent decree is just one of the issues the next sheriff will have to face. Meanwhile, even the safest jails contend with issues of inmate violence, contraband and even jail breaks. A such the task for the winner of this election will be to balance the implementation of long-term objectives to improve conditions at the jail for both inmates and staff, while working to do more on a day-to-day basis to ensure that the jail and surrounding community are as safe as they can be.
Despite unsuccessful bids in the past for governor, mayor, city council-at-large and city council District B, Quentin Brown is hoping voters will see him as the best person to be next Orleans Parish sheriff.
Brown says he wants to help the city and bring about “positive change.”
“The skills I have for this office is caring for the people of this great city and doing the right thing for them.”
Although the sheriff’s main responsibilities focus on the custody and care of inmates at the Orleans Parish Prison If elected, Brown says he plans to do more to fight crime across the city if elected, including donating a portion of his salary to Crime Stoppers as an incentive.
Charles C. Foti
Attempts to contact Charles C. Foti were unsuccessful.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman talks about both the past and the future when he talks about why he wants to keep his job as the Orleans Parish Sheriff.
“When I became sheriff in November 2004, I inherited substandard, outdated prison facilities,” Gusman says. “Nine months later, Katrina hit. But I had a master plan to transform the prison into a modern, safe, state-of-the-art facility. We’re building that facility now. I want to be . . . sheriff to fulfill our master pans and deliver to this community an asset: a smaller, more secure jail that we can all be proud of.”
Since becoming sheriff, Gusman stands by his record, specifically pointing out that he managed the evacuation of OPP staff and inmates without any loss of life during hurricane Katrina, has closed down outdated jail facilities, established programs to provide alternatives to incarceration, and has worked to “substantially” reduce recidivism, he says.
“The Sheriff’s Office, under my leadership, addresses issues of recidivism and job placement through several programs,” Gusman says. “Re-entry has reduced recidivism by nearly half.
Perhaps his biggest accomplishment since serving as sheriff, Gusman highlights his master plans to reduce the footprint of the jail with smaller facilities. He is also proud of the work his office as done to address recidivism and increase inmate’s family involvement.
Though some illegal activity seems unavoidable in the prison environment, Gusman says he has a zero tolerance policy regarding prohibited acts, adding that he believes safety at the jail will be “further enhanced as the new inmate housing building comes on line.”
Gusman describes the new jail, which he expects to be open by April or May as different atmosphere that is safer for both the inmates and the guards. A deputy will be stationed inside each tier, which will have its own recreation yard, conference room and visiting area.
“It is not just a building,” he says. “It’s a totally different way for us to do our jobs. When Katrina destroyed the jail, I did not just patch up and fix up what we had. I set out to make this a better place. We are creating a safer, smaller, more secure facility. We have ended the practice of just warehousing inmates.”
As for employee pay and recruiting, Gusman says he has used additional funding from the city to boost employee wages and has instituted an active and aggressive recruiting campaign for deputies.
Ira Thomas says that when he lost his bid for sheriff in 2004, coming in fourth in special election to fill the unexpired term of Charles Foti, he threw his support by Marlin Gusman who faced then-interim sheriff William Hunter.
He hoped to see reform. Ten years later, however, he is not satisfied with the job Gusman has done. And he thinks he can do better.
“It’s nearly a decade later, there is no improvement,” Thomas says referring what he still sees as challenges at the local jail. “OPP is under another consent decree. There is a lack of transparency in management.”
Thomas says his primary goal would be to ensure that the Orleans Parish Prison is “safe, secure, and humane.”
A member of the Orleans Parish School Board and retired NOPD lieutenant, Thomas says his experience in law enforcement make him the best candidate to oversee the parish’s criminal or civil sheriff operations.
“I have total of 34 years in law enforcement, during four of which I served as a correctional officer. I am a state and FBI certified police education instructor,” Thomas says, adding that his role on the Orleans Parish School Board has also provided him with budget management experience he believes will serve him well if elected.
In fact, Thomas points to the financial and academic improvements in OPSB has the indicators of the type of leadership and management he will bring to the sheriff’s office.
“We have the best bond rating in the city; and we are ranked the second best-performing school district in the state,” he says. “That is the kind of service citizens should expect in every aspect of public service.”
More training and higher pay for deputies are also on Thomas’ list of priorities if he is elected. And he is convinced he can find the resources to make it happen at current revenue levels.
He would examine the department’s budget to find funds could redirected to training and salaries, he says, specifically citing the recently renegotiated contract with a local law firm that reduced the sheriff’s office payment to the firm by about $1 million annually as one example of resources that can be can redirected.
Thomas says he also plans to add some teeth to the jail’s re-entry program by creating private-public partnerships with businesses to give ex-inmates real job opportunities to reduce the changes of re-offending. He would start with those businesses that have vendor contracts with the jail. Businesses with lucrative contracts ought to be willing to make such a commitment, he says.