By: Rachel Suga, Writer / Follow South Jersey Bridgeton City Intern
BRIDGETON, N.J. — Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency called on warden Richard Smith to resign his position earlier this month in a letter due to his delayed reaction to coronavirus concerns and protocol.
“It’s taken Warden Smith six months to mandate jail-wide testing and seven-and-a-half [months] to order proper PPE,” Surrency wrote in the letter. “The result of his failed leadership is well documented in the headlines of our local papers: over 70 inmates and staff infected with COVID.”
Smith had stated that the jail’s standard operations included control of the infectious disease. According to Surrency, Smith also stated that proposals made by Surrency were “unnecessary because COVID-19 wasn’t an issue at the jail” on May 19. Surrency made it clear that in his letter he wanted to highlight the failures of Smith in his position, as the warden did not adopt a policy to test, treat, and track the virus.
The inmates and employees of the jail alike were neglected regarding protection by the warden, according to Surrency’s letter. Smith did not enforce testing at the beginning of the pandemic, and it took him six months to mandate testing in the jail. Proper personal protective equipment was ordered for the jail more than seven months after the pandemic arrived in the United States.
“To me, it couldn’t be clearer that your arrogance and ego put the health and safety of our inmates and staff at risk,” Surrency said, concluding his letter to Warden Smith. “For the good of the agency, for the good of the county, and for the good of humanity, I’m calling on you to submit your resignation. Leave your keys and credentials on the desk.”
Cumberland County jail has seen some changes over the last few months. As of last August, Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella announced that there was going to be a change of plans, shifting gears away from building a new prison in Cumberland County. As opposed to building a new prison, there were plans to send inmates to other prisons in the area.
Lay-offs of more than 100 jail employees were proposed at the time. This would mean that the Cumberland County jail would hold inmates for short periods of time. According to Derella, there was “… no interest in defunding law enforcement in our County [and] no interest in asking County taxpayers to fund a half-empty correctional facility.”
In October, Cumberland County was essentially left without its own prison, leading inmates to be relocated to Atlantic County or Burlington County prisons. Surrency also publicly spoke out against the vote to transfer inmates to neighboring counties, which took place during a meeting that was closed to the public. The contract with Atlantic County to hold Cumberland County inmates will last until September 2035 while the contract with Burlington County will expire in September 2023.
By November, a New Jersey judge delayed the layoffs of 115 employees and dismissed a lawsuit combating the closure of Cumberland County Jail, according to a report by NJ.com’s Bill Duhart. Derella stated that not building the new facility and downsizing instead would save the county $8-10 million.
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.