Cumberland County, NJ (August 19, 2020) When Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella announced that the Freeholder Board was re-evaluating the need to construct a new $65 million correctional facility in light of the many rapid societal changes that have occurred over the last several months, a comprehensive review process on the part of the County Administration officials was already well underway. “When we started to see our jail population drop and hear leaders from across the political spectrum talk about criminal justice reform initiatives, we knew we had to take a pause and make sure a new correctional facility is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Cumberland County”, stated Derella. “Prior to COVID-19, there were a number of bi-partisan proposals to address bail and sentencing disparities that are gaining even more attention in light of recent unrest. It would be irresponsible to ignore these trends”, declared Derella. Director Derella added, “We have no interest in defunding law enforcement in our County, but we also have no interest in asking County taxpayers to fund a half empty correctional facility.”
“The evaluation process began with determining the extent to which there is unused correctional space in our adjacent counties”, explained Derella. “Now that we have determined that there is ample available space, we have initiated discussions with surrounding counties concerning housing Cumberland County’s jail population, which includes people detained pending a hearing as well as people serving sentences”, indicated Derella. “We are very familiar with these arrangements and know they work, as the Cumberland County Jail has housed detainees from Gloucester County under a direct services contract for several years”, stated Derella.
“Our preliminary comparison between the cost to build and operate a new facility versus entering into a direct services contract indicates that the County stands to save an estimated $8 - $10 million in the first year and millions of dollars of savings per year thereafter”, declared Derella. “With savings of this magnitude, we are anticipating no increase to the County Tax Levy for the next three (3) years”, added Derella.
Freeholder George Castellini, Liaison to the Cumberland County Finance Committee, believes that this decision demonstrates what government should be prepared to do in the face of changing circumstances, stating “This is about Tax Dollars and doing our job. I am extremely concerned for the wellbeing of the men, women, and families of our correctional department employees, but we have to address the 150,000 plus citizens of our County who expect us to do our job.” Freeholder Castellini added, “This is a difficult decision, but our County government is reacting to an unprecedented series of events, while our residents and businesses are facing devastating financial hardships. “We have an obligation to all of our taxpayers to make fiscally responsible decisions now before we reach a point of no return on the jail construction.”
The review process includes gathering input and opinions from as many stakeholders and impacted parties as possible. Director Derella stated, “We are in active discussions with our County’s Police Chiefs in all three cities, Assignment Judge, Prosecutor, Sheriff, Public Defender as well as representatives of the unions that represent the County’s corrections officers, superior officers and staff.” Director Derella explained that state law requires the filing of a “lay off” plan for employees who will be affected by the jail closing.
Deputy Director Darlene Barber indicated that the County is making every effort to help displaced staff find employment stating, “The evaluation process includes determining what assistance the County can provide to those whose employment will be impacted by housing detainees in another County’s facility, including identifying opportunities for employment in other correctional facilities, several of which currently have substantial numbers of unfilled positions.” Barber explained, “Although our staffing needs will be reduced, we will still need officers and support personnel for a variety of duties related to staffing a holding center and transporting detainees to and from court appearances not conducted by video conference.” Barber added, “We will be devoting all of our County’s Workforce Development Department’s resources to identify employment opportunities as well as providing resume and interview preparation assistance to ensure that affected employees have every tool possible to obtain suitable employment.”
While the jail review is ongoing, Derella indicates that his suggestion that the jail site could be repurposed has generated a number of alternative proposals. “The ideas are coming in fast, so much so that we will be looking to create a committee in the near future to review and recommend proposals to the Freeholder Board”, stated Derella.
“I am confident that we will find a cost effective and beneficial use for the jail site, but most importantly, I am confident that this exhaustive review process will lead us to a decision that is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Cumberland County”, concluded Derella.