Officials in Cumberland and Gloucester counties will vote Wednesday on a plan to close Gloucester County’s jail and send inmates from that facility to Cumberland County’s jail.
At the core of the agreement is money.
Cumberland County officials estimate they could raise about $3.7 million annually by housing 100 new inmates at the county jail in Bridgeton. The facility can house 550 inmates and currently has about 100 available beds, they said.
The new revenue could help offset county budget deficits, Cumberland County Freeholder Director William Whelan said. This year’s county budget deficit now stands at $12.5 million, he said.
Gloucester County officials told the South Jersey Times that they could save about $250 million over the course of the 25-year agreement. That savings comes from placing the county’s inmates — the number currently stands at about 270 — in facilities in other counties and laying off more than a third of Gloucester County’s corrections officers, they told the newspaper.
However, the plan is being angrily denounced by Republican members of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Freeholder Sam Fiocchi said the plan will further strain the county’s social services budget and make Cumberland County a “dumping ground for Gloucester County’s criminals.”
“We should be focused on creating jobs and helping our citizens in need of jobs and economic opportunity, not becoming the jail capital of New Jersey,” Fiocchi, a Republican, said in a statement. “Cumberland County already houses over 10,000 inmates when these inmates are released, many of them settle here in the county because their families have already moved here to be closer to them during their incarceration. This might be a great deal for Gloucester County, but it’s a terrible one for Cumberland County.”
Of the 13 correctional facilities run by the state Department of Corrections, three — Bayside State Prison, South Woods State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility — are located in Cumberland County. Those three prisons hold about one-third of the department’s almost 25,000 state prisoners. The Cumberland County jail is separate from those state institutions.
Cumberland County’s freeholders are scheduled to vote on the matter during a special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the county administration building in Bridgeton.
Karl Kirstein, another Republican Cumberland County freeholder, contends a special meeting is not necessary. He charges that the plan is being pushed through by Democrats who regained control of the freeholder board after the November elections.
“It is shameful that the Democratic majority would push for special meeting knowing that any voice of dissent will be unavailable to stand up for the citizens of Cumberland County,” Kirstein said. “This agreement doesn’t start until July 1, so what is the rush? Why does this need to be rammed through without a full debate before the freeholder board?”
Whelan, a Democrat, said Cumberland County would charge $100 per day per inmate from Gloucester County. Gloucester County would also pay out-of-jail medical expenses that its inmates incur and also all transportation costs, he said.
A cost-analysis of the plan performed by Cumberland County government staff estimates the county would net about $3 million from the $3.7 million received from Gloucester County, he said.
The county is also planning to hire 15 new corrections officers for its jail, Whelan said. The new hires are recommended in a study of the county jail and money for those hires is included in the budget now under review, he said.
Even if the cost of those new hires was taken into consideration, the county would still realize about $2.3 million of the $3.7 million received from Gloucester County, Whelan said.
Whelan said Cumberland County already takes in juvenile offenders from Cape May, Salem and Gloucester counties. Cumberland County also houses female inmates from Gloucester County, he said.
“This is not something that is new and never happened before,” Whelan said of the proposal to accept the new inmates.
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