BRIDGETON — Cumberland County’s freeholders on Wednesday approved a plan that would allow the county jail to house between 100 and 350 people who would no longer be incarcerated in Gloucester County.
The formal shared-services agreement between Cumberland and Gloucester counties regarding the plan is still being developed.
Among the details still being worked out is having all inmates from Gloucester County who are lodged in the Cumberland County jail being discharged in Gloucester County, Cumberland County Counsel Theodore Baker said. Other details being worked on involve Gloucester County paying costs related to emergency services, hospitalization and prescriptions for the inmates from Gloucester County, he said.
The shared-services agreement would run for 10 years. Either county has a year to opt out of the agreement, Baker said.
Another part of the agreement was to be played out Wednesday in Woodbury, where Gloucester County’s freeholders were to vote on whether to close their county’s jail and send inmates to Cumberland County. Information on that vote was not available.
The vote by Cumberland County’s freeholders came over the objections of unions that represent Cumberland County’s corrections officers.
Walt Wronuik, president of Fraternal Order of Police Local 194, said he worried that his union members could lose their jobs if Cumberland County opted to follow Gloucester County’s lead and shutter its jail. He also said the jail in Bridgeton is old and is in need of “a lot of work.”
Some county corrections officers also said they worried about problems caused by putting gangs from both Cumberland and Gloucester counties in one jail. They also charged they are yet to see a service agreement regarding the deal.
Local resident Michael Abbot told the freeholders that they should “feel ashamed … for trying to push this down the throats of the taxpayers of Cumberland County without any public debate.”
“You need to consider putting this on the ballot,” he said.
Vineland resident Steve Lewis said Gloucester County should be responsible for its own inmates.
“We do not want them,” he said. “We do not need them.”
“Babysitting criminals does not get us anything,” said local resident James Begley.
Cumberland County Freeholder Samuel Fiocchi was the only one of the six freeholders to vote against the plan. He argued that the board was voting on a plan that was not fully vetted.
“This thing is being rammed through and I don’t know a thing about it,” Fiocchi said. “We are having a tough time here (with crime) and this freeholder board is sending in reinforcements.”
Freeholder Anthony Surace told the corrections officers that the agreement will probably make their jobs more secure.
“We want keep our jail open,” Freeholder Joseph Derella said. “We want to keep them employed.”
And Freeholder Douglas Long said the plan will provide some ease for county taxpayers.
“We have to look at other revenue sources before digging into peoples’ pockets further,” he said.
Under the agreement, Gloucester County would pay Cumberland County $100 for each inmate housed in the local jail. The figure increases by 2 percent annually.
Cumberland County’s jail can hold 550 inmates. The jail currently has a population of about 440 inmates.
Cumberland County officials said the agreement would, based on the housing of 100 inmates, raise about $3.7 million annually. They said the county would net about $3 million after expenses related to housing the extra inmates. The $3 million would help offset county budget deficits, with this year’s deficit standing at about $12.5 million, they said.
Gloucester County officials estimate the agreement will save their taxpayers about $250 million over the course of the next 25 years. Those savings include the laying off of more than a third of Gloucester County’s corrections officers.
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