In a bid to cut costs, Gloucester County says it will close its jail and pay neighboring counties to house its inmates.
The Gloucester County Board of Freeholders approved a resolution on Wednesday night that would allow Cumberland and Salem counties to start taking inmates after the Gloucester County jail closes in July. Cumberland County Freeholders also approved its resolution last night in Bridgeton.
It’s a move that Gloucester Freeholder Director Robert Damminger said could eventually save his taxpayers $10 million a year.
Damminger says it currently costs the county approximately $300 per day to house inmates. Under the new shared-services agreement that amount would drop to $100. Freeholder Lyman Barnes noted that each Gloucester County resident would see $30,000 in savings over the 25 years of the agreement.
But not everyone was happy with the plan. Members of Fraternal Order of Police Lodges 97, 165, and 199, which represent the correctional guards and Sheriff lieutenants, oppose the deal. They were outside the Gloucester County Courthouse handing out leaflets.
A standing room only crowd implored the freeholders to take more time to make their decision, as the proposed merger was first announced just days earlier, Freeholder Director Damminger insists that the matter has been researched since the beginning of January.
Freeholder Larry Wallace voted to table making a decision on the measure. “I was not part of any negotiations,” Wallace said. ” I found out on Saturday, the same as everyone else.” Wallace is the freeholder liaison to the Gloucester County jail.
Questions arose during the heated public session regarding transportation of prisoners, the impact on the courts, and the impact on inmates. Damminger said in his opening remarks that Gloucester County will be responsible for the transportation of inmates, not the local police.
Damminger also noted that 33 officers will remain employed by the Department of Corrections, but some are likely to be displaced.
Felt shut out
Many of those officers felt they should have been part of the discussion. State President of the Fraternal Order of Police Ed Branagan said, “When you lay off police officers, people die.” Department of Corrections officer Steve Newson said, “We are asking you to involve us in this decision, and let us be part of the solution.”
Gloucester County resident Frank Brinkman asked why the taxpayers didn’t have a vote in the matter. Damminger responded, “It’s not up for a referendum. We are here to make that decision.”
“At the end of the day, the happiest we’ll be is if nobody gets laid off,” he added. “We will work tirelessly on that.”
Chairman for Law Enforcement Rick Kott said Cumberland County didn’t want the Gloucester County inmates. “You need to open up the lines of communication with the union representatives, with the people, and for God’s sake, with the liaisons involved,” he said.
Damminger assured meeting attendees that public safety will not be diminished in any way. He said that any contract with another correctional operation would have to comply with federal and state standards.
Freeholder Vincent Nestore was the only board member who cast a no vote on the measure. “It’s more than about money, it’s about people’s lives,” he said. Deputy Freeholder Director Joe Chila said, “Shared services has worked in Gloucester County before, and I’m sure it’s going to work again.”
Freeholder Wallace, who tried to have the vote postponed, said more time was needed. “I wasn’t comfortable with the questions that came up tonight,” he said, “I thought the officers deserved at least a couple of weeks to have their questions answered…But we had to do what’s best for the majority of the community.”