By: Michael Mandarino / Follow South Jersey Assignment Editor
BRIDGETON, N.J. — Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella announced on Tuesday that the Freeholder Board has been reevaluating the need for a new $65 million prison in the county.
Construction of a new correctional facility has been put on hold for the time being as the county weighs its options on the matter. Instead of having a new, larger prison in Cumberland County, the Freeholder Board and other members of the county’s government are currently formulating plans to send inmates to other prisons in the region. None of the county’s future plans for the prison system are set in stone at this time.
“We have no interest in defunding law enforcement in our County, but we also have no interest in asking County taxpayers to fund a half-empty correctional facility,” Derella said in a press release. “The evaluation process began with determining the extent to which there is unused correctional space in our adjacent counties. Now that we have determined there is ample available space, we have initiated discussions with surrounding counties concerning housing Cumberland County’s jail population, which includes people detained pending a hearing as well as people serving sentences.”
According to Derella, Cumberland County’s prison system has housed inmates from Gloucester County for “several years” under a direct services contract. As part of this plan, inmates wouldn’t be held in Cumberland County Jail for longer periods of time.
In addition to the potential transfer of inmates to neighboring counties’ correctional facilities, some employees of Cumberland County Jail would be laid off under the new plan. Among those who could be subject to layoffs include corrections officers, but the county didn’t provide a concrete number of employees who would potentially lose their jobs. Those who are laid off will receive assistance in finding new jobs at other correctional facilities in the region, as state law requires the filing of a plan for those employees.
All of these changes will lead to estimated savings of $8-10 million in the next year and millions after that. Because of these savings, Derella anticipates no increase to the county’s tax levy for the next three years.
“This is about Tax Dollars and doing our job,” Freeholder and liaison to the Cumberland County Finance Committee George Castellini added in a press release. “I am extremely concerned for the well-being of the men, women, and families of our correctional department employees, but we have to address the 150,000-plus citizens of our County who expect us to do our jobs. This is a difficult decision, but our County is reacting to an unprecedented series of events while our residents and businesses are facing devastating financial hardships. We have an obligation to all of our taxpayers to make fiscally responsible decisions now before we reach the point of no return on the jail construction.”
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