Cumberland County officials say an inmate acceptance program that started out as a controversial proposal more than a year ago is operating better than expected.
The lodging of inmates from Gloucester County in the Cumberland County jail proceeded without incident and did not attract the gang activity some of its opponents feared, said Warden Bob Balicki.
The program also has dumped more than $4 million into Cumberland County’s coffers since the first inmates from Gloucester County arrived in June 2013, said Cumberland County Chief Financial Officer Gerald Seneski. That money covered the cost of the inmate acceptance program and offset some fixed jail expenses, such as maintenance, heating and cooling, he said. That allowed taxpayer money that would have paid for those costs to be spent on other county issues, he said.
Cumberland Freeholder Director Joseph Derella said the inmate acceptance program is an example of the county developing much-needed new sources of revenue. The county wants to extend the program for future years, he said.
“It exceeded our expectation,” he said.
The program began last year after Gloucester County officials announced they would close their jail.
The Cumberland County jail had available bed space after some new programs reduced the facility’s inmate population from more than 600 five years ago to between 400 and 450, Balicki said. Those programs were aimed at persons who were being “locked up for minor things,” he said. One example was a man who wound up in the county jail because he owed $1.08 on a fine imposed a decade earlier, he said.
The subsequent agreement involved Cumberland County housing, depending on available beds at its jail, 100 to 350 Gloucester County inmates. Gloucester County would pay Cumberland County $100 a day per inmate.
The agreement was changed in May, with Gloucester County paying a base of $100 per day for 100 inmates, and $83 for each additional inmate. County officials said the change was made to the agreement competitive with other county jails seeking to accept Gloucester County’s inmates.
Seneski said Cumberland County realized more than $2 million from the agreement last year. The total for this year, through August, is more than $2.3 million, he said.
Balicki said the number of Gloucester County inmates in his jail fluctuates daily, but rarely drops below 100. The additional inmates have not prompted a need for extra staff, he said.
Balicki said one unintended consequence of the program appears to be that municipal police and State Police are “locking up” about 70 more defendants a month than before the inmate acceptance operation began. He said that is likely because those law enforcement officers are spending less time dealing with offenders who should not be behinds bars and more time dealing with persons who commit criminal acts.
“That’s improving public safety,” he said.
One issue that Balicki said he has to continue to deal with is replacing county corrections officers who leave to work at the three state prisons and the one federal prison in Cumberland County.
“The three state prisons and the federal prison all pay more than me,” he said.
The New Jersey facilities include Bayside State Prison and South State Correctional Facility in Maurice River Township, and South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.
State Department of Corrections statistics released in March show there were 2,211 prisoners at Bayside, 1,865 prisoners at Southern State, and 3,386 prisoners at South Woods. Those 7,462 prisoners represent about 33 percent of the 22,318 persons incarcerated at state prisons throughout New Jersey.
The federal government operates a correctional facility in Fairton, Fairfield Township, that houses about 1,400 men, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Contact Thomas Barlas: