CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Overcrowded inmates sit in small, dorm-style cell blocks during a lockdown at the overcrowded, dimly lit Cape May County jail.

The facility, built in 1976, has room for about 180 inmates. But the jail serves more than 200 a day on average, according to the warden.

“This place has way outlasted its lifespan,” Warden Donald Lombardo said as he walked through. “Everything, especially the medical unit, is totally antiquated.”

But things won’t stay like this for long.

In July, the county will finally be able to shake off the complaints and violations its crumbling jail accumulates every year for a new facility that will feature minimum-, medium- and maximum-security blocks, a large medical wing with six cells, a pharmacy, doctor’s office and rec rooms with basketball hoops.

Construction of the $37 million, 85,000-square-foot jail is scheduled to be completed mid-July.

On Friday, Lombardo laughed slightly as he walked into the minimum-security, dorm-style housing unit in the new jail.

“It’s a little bit like a college dorm,” he said.

Indeed, the minimum-security wing has bunks, but no cells. Inmates will be free to roam around the wing during the day and will have access to the rec room, which has some natural light from high windows and a basketball hoop.

The wing also will have televisions with cable. On nights when “Monday Night Football” or some other event is on, inmates could have a later bedtime.

All of them, just more than 30 per wing, will be guarded by one officer at a station.

Medium- and maximum-security wings have a similar layout, except inmates will be locked in cells.

But the new jail does not sacrifice security for state-of-the-art, Lombardo said.

When an inmate enters a locked wing of the jail, they will not leave unless they have a visit or meeting with a lawyer.

All meals will be served inside the wing, and no one will go outside unless they are being released or have a court date.

That could take months or years, if an inmate is awaiting a trial on murder charges.

“You limit movement to maximize security,” Magill said.

The wings will have one guard at a station, but will be under surveillance 24 hours a day.

Magill and Lombardo both said they do not fear an officer will get ganged up on by inmates in the cell.

“Generally in a wing, you have one or two alpha males who steal lunches or try to assault people,” Magill said. “All the other inmates usually just want to serve their time and want to have protection from those alpha males with security officers.”

Lombardo added the one officer in the wing also will wear a special device that tracks his movements. If it detects he falls sideways, an alarm will go off, he said.

But despite all the new technology in the wings, the biggest improvement will be the medical facility, Lombardo said.

Inmates with addiction will be able to detox safely and under medical supervision in a medical cell. Others will be able to have doctor or dentist appointments in rooms that are guarded but more private.

County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton previously told The Press the new jail, which is 30 feet from the old one on Crest Haven Road, will save money on operating costs and increase safety for corrections officers.

The county bonded for the money and officials say the jail will not result in a tax increase, according to Press archives.

One last logistical challenge will be moving the inmates from the old jail to the new jail.

“We’re working on a plan to do that,” Lombardo said. “But obviously we’re not going to announce how it’ll be done.”

Never miss breaking news as it happens! Sign up now to receive alerts delivered to your inbox.

Contact: 609-272-7260 Twitter @ACPressDeRosier

I joined The Press in January 2016 after graduating from Penn State in December 2015. I was the sports editor for The Daily Collegian on campus which covered all 31 varsity sports and several club sports.

Recommended for you

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.