By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor
BRIDGETON, N.J. — Cumberland County’s Board of Freeholders voted to rescind the county’s prison-related direct services contract with Gloucester County and authorize new ones with Atlantic and Burlington counties on Friday night.
Friday night’s resolution effectively means that Cumberland County no longer has its own prison. Instead, inmates in the area will be transferred to one of Atlantic or Burlington Counties. The direct services contract in place with Gloucester County will take effect on October 15, and the new contracts with Atlantic and Burlington counties will begin retroactively on October 1.
The contract with Atlantic County is a 15-year agreement that ends on September 30, 2035, and the Burlington County contract will expire on September 30, 2023. Atlantic County’s contract also include an option to extend the deal for another 15 years. These actions were agreed to by three separate 5-2 votes, and you can see how each of the Board’s members voted below:
- Yes: Director Joseph Derella, Deputy Director Darlene Barber, Jim Quinn, George Castellini, Carol Musso
- No: Jack Surrency, Douglas Albrecht
In addition to the transfer of inmates to nearby counties, Friday’s resolution will lead to the layoffs of corrections officers and other employees at the Cumberland County jail. The county didn’t provide a concrete number of potential layoffs when the decision to reconsider building a new Cumberland County jail was made public in August. However, county officials sent a letter to New Jersey’s Civil Services Commission warning it of 121 potential layoffs at that time. These layoffs are currently set to take place on November 3, but New Jersey state law requires a plan to help the employees who are laid off with finding new opportunities.
Freeholder George Castellini, who voted in favor of Friday night’s resolutions, noted that Gloucester County ended up saving $84 million by closing its own prison. According to Castellini, Cumberland County will save $8-9 million per year as a result of Friday’s votes. In August, Board director Joseph Derella said that these changes could save the county anywhere between $8-10 million, and he also anticipated no increase to the county’s tax levy for the next three years as a result.
Victor Bermudez, the President of PBA Local #231, released a statement condemning the Friday night vote and the Board’s lack of transparency and communication with his organization.
“Not a single public hearing was held, not a single meeting with PBA leadership to discuss the process, employee displacement, and transition,” Bermudez said. “These same freeholders spent more than a year and $160,000 to study building a jail, and yet spent less than six months and no money to deliberate on closing the county jail. The process has been a sham. Honestly, these aren’t even real people voting; they’re bots, doing what they’re programmed to do. Bots!”
Additionally, freeholder Jack Surrency publicly spoke out against the Friday night vote last Wednesday. He criticized Board director Joseph Derella for his lack of transparency with the rest of the Board and members of the public throughout the process in an open letter. Surrency called the Friday night vote a “rush to judgement,” but his letter ultimately fell on deaf ears.
“Too much is uncertain at this time – and this is not a decision that we can walk back [on],” the letter reads. “It deserves careful consideration, and before we hold a vote, we should (1) hold a public hearing, (2) pause to hear from [Superior Court] Judge [Benjamin] Telsey, and (3) await a decision from the Civil Service Commission. Hear from all those involved.”
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