Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is defending his seat against four challengers that include former Independent Police Monitor, Susan Hutson, mental health advocate Janet Hays, and Christopher Williams, who, despite repeated attempts, could not be reached by The New Orleans Tribune for an interview.
QUENTIN R. BROWN JR.
A graduate of Walter L. Cohen High School and the owner and operator of a lawn care service, Quentin Brown says that he wants to bring real change to the sheriff’s department. A registered independent, Brown’s platform includes enhancing rehabilitation programs for inmates to prepare them to reenter society.
Brown says he will also focus on training and best practices for deputies and other sheriff’s department staff. He says, if elected, he will increase pay for deputies. He would also use the sheriff’s deputies to assist NOPD in high crime areas by deploying them on the streets where needed. Brown has made a run for sheriff before, and he has also been a candidate for at-large and district seats on the New Orleans City Council, Governor and mayor.
His affiliations and community service includes Boys Town, CrimeStoppers, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Second Harvest Food Bank among others.
As he nears the end of his fourth term as Orleans Parish Sheriff, Marlin Gusman says he has brought meaningful change to the office and wants to continue to see his efforts through, which is why he is running for re-election.
“When I was elected there were 13 different jails, most dilapidated, deteriorating in poor condition. And we made a conscious decision to close every single last one of them,” says Gusman. “Now we have a modern facility with direct supervision, over 900 cameras, clean, well-maintained—a place where we can help people become better when they leave. Our responsibility is the care, custody and control of inmates in the Orleans Justice Center, but our mission is to help people be better when they leave than when they came in.”
Gusman touts the jail’s transitional work program, day reporting center, the jail’s education program, as well as partnerships with outside entities such as Goodwill and UNO as a part of that effort.
He also maintains that a special facility to house inmates with mental health issues is needed and will be a priority for his office if re-elected. But he calls the idea that it is an expansion of the jail “a false narrative.” Instead, it is an element of the jail that needed to be replaced but was not part of previous phases of the overhaul of jail facilities.
“It is not an expansion,” Gusman says. “This is one of the critical elements of the jail. Working with FEMA, we were able to replace several buildings into one, and I guess some people thought we were able to place everything in that one building. I don’t think there is anybody with any sense claiming that we don’t need a metal health facility. There are some people claiming that we can retrofit. We have some experience with retrofitting. I told you that when I first got there, we had 13 buildings. One of them used to be a hotel, and it was retrofitted to make it a jail. Another one used to be an office building. It was retrofitted to make it a jail. One of them used to be a school. It was retrofitted to make it a jail. Retrofitting is not a good idea. We ought to do this the best way possible.”
While there is still work to do, Gusman says he is also proud of the steps his office has made in meeting the mandates set under the federal consent decree.
Mental health advocate and founder of Healing Minds NOLA, Janet Hays promises to bring reform to the jail if elected as well as work to remove barriers for people with mental illness that come in contact with the criminal justice system.
Hays says that in her work helping people with serious mental illness and their families, she consistently finds that when they cannot get the treatment and help they need they ultimately end up in contact with the criminal justice system, homeless or in a “constant cycle of acute care . . . without getting better.”
“I have been working for a long time to remove policy barriers that actually un-handcuff families so that they can get help for their loved ones, and it’s been a struggle. We’re getting some traction right now, but I just really feel that it is inhumane that our mental health laws really force people with mental illness into the criminal justice system in order for us to get them into treatment.”
Hays describes herself as an advocate for alternatives to incarceration and homelessness. She does not want to expand the jail to provide a mental health facility. Instead, if elected she says she will work with state legislators to find ways to end what she calls the mental illness to prison pipeline.
Though it is her area of expertise, Hays says she is not only running on the issues of mental illness and substance abuse issues that propel people into the criminal justice system.
“There are also a lot of people in the jail that don’t have mental illness,” Hays says. “I know that our community is concerned about crime. I feel strongly that we should hold people accountable, but we also need to recognize the inequities in the system that force people in the criminal justice system. Once offenders have come in contact with the system, that’s our opportunity to hold them accountable so that we can get them the employment, the services, the education they need in order to not comeback into the system.”
A graduate of Tulane University Law School, Susan Hutson returned to New Orleans as the Independent Police Monitor, supervising the office that provides civilian oversight to the New Orleans Police Department. She has also served as an assistant inspector general for Los Angeles Police Commissioner’s Office of Inspector General, as assistant police monitor for the city of Austin, Texas, and as a chief prosecutor for the Corpus Christi city attorney’s office.
With experience as a national law enforcement oversight consultant, Hutson says she is uniquely positioned to bring criminal justice reform to the parish jail and sheriff’s office.
“After prayer and careful thought about the criminal justice system in our parish and after watching our communities around the city and country get out in the streets and demand change, I know that after 17 years under the current leadership we need a new sheriff that embraces reforms,” I am running on a platform of reform and change, which will include the three C’s of correction, care, and custody.”
Hutson says her experience will also help move the sheriff’s office and the Orleans Justice Center closer to compliance with the federal consent decree. If elected, Hutson says she will work to improve the training and support of staff. She would also use existing medical facilities in the community to provide healthcare to Orleans Parish inmates, removing the contracted healthcare provider, WellPath.
Instead of an expansion of the jail to house inmates with mental health issues, Hutson says she would turn to agencies and institutions already in the community and equipped to better deal with mental health than the jail system, even if that would mean reapportioning part of the jail’s budget to better fund those institutions.
Hutson says she will bring transparency and accountability to the office by publishing an annual report of the agency’s fiscal operations and well as its law enforcement operations