State officials said they are transferring inmates out of Bayside State Prison while contractors work to resolve problems with the 44-year-old facility’s heating system.

An undisclosed number of inmates have been moved to other New Jersey prisons since the beginning of the month, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer said.

“There is nothing sinister,” she said. “We’re doing what we are supposed to be doing. We always err on the side of caution.”

The inmates will be returned to Bayside as the repairs are made, Fedkenheuer said.

However, officials with some prison watchdog groups are asking the department not to transfer inmates back to the facility in Maurice River Township until more than the mechanical problems are corrected.

The groups, including the Prison Watch Project and People’s Organization for Progress, allege in a letter sent to state Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan recently that there is a “dangerous … environment” at Bayside.

Reports from “multiple sources” indicate a “dangerous, intimidating environment, poisoned by over expressions of racial hatred, and concealed by credible threats and demonstrated acts of violent retaliation for exposing problems in the prison,” the groups allege in the letter.

The groups further allege “accounts of assaults of prisoners by DOC employees, a pervasive atmosphere of intimidation, various forms of corruption, complicity of supervisory and even medical staff, and threatened and demonstrated violent retaliation against witnesses.”

Fedkenheuer said she had no comment on the allegations.

Opened in 1970, Bayside had 2,206 inmates as of Jan. 1, according to the state Corrections Department website. The prison sits on more than 1,100 acres and has three operational units.

Bayside and Southern State Correctional Facility, also located in Maurice River Township, and South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, house about a third of the more than 23,000 inmates in the state’s prison system.

Contact Thomas Barlas:

609-226-9197

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.