In South Jersey, two counties are deciding to build new jails while another is choosing to maintain its current facility.
With multimillion dollar jails slated to open in Cumberland and Cape May counties, the high cost of building new facilities over the climbing yearly costs of maintaining older structures will lead to savings in the long run, officials say.
In Atlantic County, where the same facility has housed inmates since it opened in 1984, with an additional building opening several years later, there is no plan for new construction.
With its new facility, Cumberland County may see an increase in the yearly cost per inmate, from $52,545 to either $60,750 or $63,947, depending on the how many inmates it will hold.
In Cape May County, that cost could increase from $32,857 to $35,937. In Atlantic County, the yearly cost per inmate was calculated at $29,674.
While the yearly costs per inmate in the Cumberland and Cape May County jails are higher than average, Atlantic County is well below. According to a May 2015 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, the annual cost per incarcerated individual averaged $47,057 in the 35 jurisdictions that responded to the nonprofit’s survey, which takes into account county size, staffing and salary ratios and prison populations. The Press of Atlantic City calculated the cost by dividing the yearly budget by the total inmate capacity.
In Cumberland County — where a new jail, which is budgeted not to exceed $65 million in cost, is scheduled to open in January 2020 near South Woods State Prison on South Burlington Road in Bridgeton — it’s a long-term numbers game in which the cost to build a new facility is less than maintaining the current structure adjacent to the courthouse on West Broad Street.
The current facility, with the oldest section built in the 1950s, has its challenges to maintain, Cumberland County Freeholder Joseph Derella said.
The jail is made up of three total sections, two that have been added over the years.
“When you create additional space by adding on to old structures, it creates another challenge trying to match up HVAC, walkways, lighting,” Derella said, describing dark hallways and corners that shouldn’t be there.
“It’s just an unsafe environment for our corrections offers as well as the inmates,” he added. “It’s just an antiquated, high-cost facility.”
The new facility is “modern, up-to-date and will stand the test of time,” he said.
“The impact from a tax standpoint should be neutral,” Derella said, adding there are plans to build an energy plant that will service the jail for its energy needs. “It’ll save us money, but also in the future provide revenue back to the county.”
And the fate of the current jail? Demolition, Derella said, and while what will take its place is yet to be seen, whatever it is will bring “some positive economic synergy there in the city of Bridgeton, which then helps the entire county.”
The project goes out to bid this fall.
In Cape May County, where the new $36.5 million jail is expected to open by the end of this month, the facility was designed for the safety of officers and inmates as well.
The old jail had poor air quality due to overcrowding, leaking pipes and windows, failing sewer lines and boilers so old that no replacement parts were available, Sheriff Bob Nolan said.
“The most known situation out there was the fact that we had hollow walls,” Nolan said, who remembered a couple inmate escapes in 1980s. “In order to mediate that problem, they put chain-link fencing up against the entire exterior of the jail.”
The new facility is developed around a direct supervision instead of the old jail’s linear model. Officers will be posted in a control center instead of having to walk down a corridor to see inmates.
“It’s similar to community policing, but confined to the jail,” Nolan said. “The officers are right there in the housing and living area with the inmates, being part of that housing unit, and they get a better sense when something is going wrong.”
The new facility is expected to be a cost-saving move for taxpayers.
“On average, facilities and services spend $500,000 per year on unforeseen issues, utilities, service contracts, work orders and maintenance staff,” Nolan said. “All these will be significantly less in the new facility.”
In addition, the inmates take over the laundry services for the county nursing home, saving the county $110,000 a year.
The old jail, directly in front of the new facility on Crest Haven Road in Cape May Court House, will be leveled and turned into a parking lot, he said.
Atlantic County jail Warden David Kelsey said there are no plans to build a new facility but that steady repairs and maintenance have kept the buildings on Atlantic Avenue in Mays Landing strong.
Current projects include repairing and replacing the roof and remodeling the inmate kitchen center, he said, adding that the population hasn’t been at capacity since 2009.
“We’ve been diligent in their maintenance, and we’ve been doing repairs to the infrastructure,” Kelsey said. “Our building is in good shape.”