Deputy shortage delaying court proceedings for New Orleans’ swollen jail population

Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 4:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Ongoing manpower issues at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office are raising new concerns for the city’s incarcerated population and public defenders.

Sheriff Susan Hutson says her office only has about one-third of the deputies needed to get inmates to their court appearances. Instead of five days a week, inmates are only being taken from the jail to the courthouse a block away twice a week.

Delays in getting inmates to court hearings mean more people remain in jail waiting.

The population of the Orleans Justice Center in September reached its highest level since the release of hundreds of non-violent and elderly men and women at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.

According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, 1,006 people were in jail as of Tues., Oct. 4. Of those, 854 remain unsentenced on felony charges. The highest number of people held in the jail was over 1,800 in October 2015.

“If you don’t get prisoners to the courthouse, they’re going to back up, and you will have more prisoners... which will mean you need more guards, and it’s exacerbating the problem,” Fox 8 Legal Analyst Joe Raspanti says.

The sheriff’s office has stepped up the utilization of Zoom for proceedings that can be held virtually, but Raspanti says it’s not the same as having the defendant in court.

“I don’t like zoom,” Raspanti says. “We had to do it in COVID but other courthouses are trying to get away from them because it’s inferior to what the founding fathers wanted us to do; to be there to confront the court and accusers.”

Judicial administrators say they are eager for the sheriff’s office to hire the deputies needed to return courthouse operations to normal.

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