Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella is citing the efforts by the administration, corrections officers and staff at the County Correctional Facility as the primary reason that no inmates have tested positive as of May 12, 2020 for COVID-19. “Implementing COVID-19 protocols in a jail or prison environment is extremely challenging”, stated Derella. “With the full support of our Board of Freeholders, County Administration and the County Prosecutor’s Office, Warden Richard Smith has utilized a comprehensive and integrated approach that includes the use of frequent enhanced disinfection and cleaning, use of temperature and health screening upon building entry, use of approved personal protective equipment, shift scheduling alterations, social distancing and the reduction in inmate population”, added Derella. “Although appropriate face masks have been in short supply since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, the County has gone to great lengths to secure approved face masks and distribute those masks to our corrections officers and staff”, stated Derella. “We have received well intentioned offers to donate face masks to us, including an offer from the union representing the corrections officers, for which we are grateful, but in order to ensure the safety of our officers and staff we must verify the quality of the masks we distribute and require those masks be delivered directly from the supplier to the County”, emphasized Derella. The Freeholder Director added, “During the acute PPE shortage, poor quality masks flooded the market, but we are now able to supply our officers, staff and inmates with approved facial masks.”
Warden Richard Smith indicated that keeping COVID-19 from spreading among the inmates is critical to protecting corrections officers and staff stating, “As of May 12th, we have had 11 corrections officers and three civilian employees test positive for COVID-19 and while we cannot control the exposures to the virus our officers encounter outside the jail, we are going to extraordinary lengths to minimize those exposures inside the jail.” Warden Smith went on to state, “The affected officers are isolating at home and will not return to the jail until they receive medical clearance.” Warden Smith indicated, “Officers and Staff who are undergoing medically authorized home isolation due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis receive their normal base pay without the need to use their paid time off.” Warden Smith added, “Four of our COVID positive corrections officers and one civilian have returned to duty after receiving medical clearance.”
“There are a number of exceptional measures we have taken to reduce the chance of exposure to COVID including work shift scheduling changes that result in a substantial amount of officers and staff working 40 hours in a two week period that would normally require 80 hours”, stated the Warden. “Despite the schedule change, we continue to compensate those officers and staff as if they worked their normal shifts so that there is no loss in base pay”, added Warden Smith.
Warden Smith indicated that no visitors are permitted at the correctional facility and, “All new inmates who enter the facility are screened by a nurse and placed in 14 day quarantine.” Smith stated, “We are using stringent screening which requires everyone to be screened for temperature and COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the facility and, if a shift lasts beyond eight hours, screenings are repeated.” Warden Smith went on to say, “While COVID-19 has been an unprecedented epidemic, the control of infectious disease is part of our standard operations as they are frequently encountered in correctional facilities.”
Executive Order 124 issued by Governor Murphy mandating the release from the county jails of certain non-violent offenders has served to reduce inmate population in the Cumberland County Jail. Director Derella explained, “Although we opposed the indiscriminate release of inmates who present a threat to public safety from our county jail, our County Prosecutor has worked hard to ensure that only those who represent no threat to the community were released.” As a result, added Derella, “In April of 2019 our County Corrections Officers and staff were managing an inmate population averaging 320 while, in contrast, in April of 2020 we had 125 correctional staff managing an average daily inmate population of 205.” Warden Smith remarked, “The reduction in the inmate population has allowed us to make schedule alterations that reduce the amount of time our officers and staff are inside the jail facility.”
Director Derella indicated that multiple COVID testing options are available to corrections officers stating, “Our corrections officers are classified as first responders and are able to avail themselves of COVID-19 testing at our Rowan College of South Jersey Cumberland Campus – Vineland Test Site.” Director Derella concluded, “Additional testing resources are also available by request through our County Human Resources Department”.