So here I am following Henry Ruiz again. I took over
as chairman of the State PBA Corrections Committee
replacing Henry, and I can tell you his are tough shoes
to fill. Henry is one of a kind when it comes to corrections.
He gave us our name in the PBA with corrections.
I learned a lot from him during the years; he was so
passionate about the members and about corrections.
I will try to meet the standard Henry established for this
The issue that needs immediate attention is the
regionalized prison being discussed for Burlington, Atlantic, Camden,
Salem and Cape May counties. A survey is being done in each of the
counties about the feasibility, which is a good place to start.
There are a lot of unknowns regarding this regionalization. It might
be all smoke and mirrors. The administrations and local governments
think it will lower the population in the jails and save a lot of money,
but they are clearly not looking at all the effects.
From the corrections officers’ standpoint, obviously there is the
possibility of layoffs. But if the regionalization gets knocked down, it
might be because of the impact it has on the inmates, the lawyers, the
courts and communities. If you just think of all the travel from a
regional facility to county courthouses, and from county agencies to
the jail, it’s a bit crazy.
Regionalization for state corrections might make sense from the
perspective that the inmates are doing longer periods of time. But
these are county facilities. We’re doing intakes and releases every day.
If we had a regional facility for the five counties, there might be a
revolving door of prisoners going in and out.
And where will they release them? In the county where they were
convicted, or in the town where the facility is? That will have a profound
impact on the local agencies.
What I find really frustrating is the way that elected officials change
their minds. A year-and-a-half ago, when Cumberland County
absorbed the Gloucester County jail, the freeholders were praising the
facility. They praised their officers. Now, because they are advocating
for regionalization, they are saying the facility is outdated and antiquated.
I guess every time local government changes, new ideas come
in and everybody thinks they know how to save money.
If they do decide to regionalize, they will have to build a new facility.
That might take two or three years to build. And the survey probably
will take six months to a year, so the timetable on all this is unsure.
That’s the hardest part, because our county corrections officers
can’t prepare for the future. They need to stay focused on their day-today
operations and on getting home safe every day.
We will continue from our side with the OPRA request. We know
our jails and how they are run. We know the elected officials are
putting out a smoke screen, saying to the public that it’s going to save
money. We will be able to show whether it is or it isn’t, and show the
effect on the jails. That will be the difference-maker in the long run.
And I believe, when it’s all said and done, that regionalization for five
counties will be too extreme.