Meet New Orleans’ new sheriff, Susan Hutson


Gabe Darley

Susan Hutson is New Orleans’ new sheriff.

Anna Dixon, Senior Staff Reporter

On Dec. 11, Susan Hutson became the first Black woman elected to be Sheriff of Orleans Parish, defeating Marlin Gusman, who has held the position since 2004. 

This is Hutson’s first elected position. She has served as an independent police monitor for the city of New Orleans since 2010, a post that was created following police brutality after Hurricane Katrina. She has overseen the implementation of body cameras and of a critical investigations team in the case of an officer-involved shooting. 

Hutson, a graduate of Tulane University School of Law, led a campaign focused on criminal justice reform which contrasted with the controversies that plagued Gusman’s administration. Between 2014 and 2019, 15 people died while in custody of the Orleans Justice Center, making it the third-ranking jail facility in Louisiana for inmate deaths, despite housing only 900 incarcerated people. 

The Orleans Parish Correctional Center has been under federal consent decree since 2013 due to frequent incidents of violence and death between inmates and inadequate mental health care in the prison system.

In 2020, there was a spike in crime across the country, but New Orleans saw one of the largest increases. Homicide increased by almost 60% in comparison to the national average of 21%. By Oct. 2021, there had been 156 murders in New Orleans, already greater than the number of murders in all of 2020. 

Hutson summarized her platform as “the 3 C’s of Corrections: Care, Custody and Control,” emphasizing the importance of safety for both employees and incarcerated individuals. She proposes to do so by providing medical substance abuse treatment and mental health care to those incarcerated. 

In addition, she promoted implementing the approach of the American Jobs Center, which provides career training and development services both during and after incarceration. 

The proposal of the Phase III building, a location to house inmates with mental health issues, became a focal point of the sheriff election. The building was initially approved under the administration of the former mayor in 2017, but construction of the 89-bed facility halted under current Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration in June of 2020

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who presides over the consent decree for Orleans Parish, ordered for the continuation of the project in January of 2021, but it was met by appeal from the city.

Gusman favored the continuation of construction of the Phase III building, arguing that it is “an important part of the long-term solution to the lack of compliance with the consent judgment in the areas of medical and mental health.” 

Hutson opposed the expansion of the prison and proposed that the $51 million designated for the project be used to renovate the existing building for inmates with health issues. 

Hutson’s election, alongside the 2020 election of Jason Williams as the Orleans Parish District Attorney, signals that top two law enforcement positions in New Orleans are now held by self-proclaimed advocates of criminal justice reform.

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