Freeholders will have to wait for Hudson County on juvenile detention decision

UNION COUNTY — The Union County Freeholder Board will have to wait until next week to find out whether Hudson County is going to send some of their juvenile detainees here or not.

Union County has been in closed door discussions with Hudson County officials for several months in regard to regionalization of area youth correctional facilities, but the talks did not stop there.

Although the Hudson County freeholder board was expected to approve a resolution sending all of their juvenile detainees to Union, Bergen and Morris counties rather than house them in Hudson County, the board decided to hold off until Tuesday to make that decision.

According to sources, the Hudson County freeholder board wanted to ensure any outstanding union issues were resolved prior to approving the two-year contract that will pay Union County $230 a day for each juvenile detainee the first year and $240 during the second year.

Currently, approximately 30 juveniles are housed in the Hudson County Secaucus facility but there is room for as many as 100.
The fact Hudson County is under utilizing their facility actually is a boon to Union County coffers. According to Union County Public Information Director Sebastian D’Elia, the county could realize $2.1 million annually in additional revenues as a result of housing Hudson County juvenile detainees in the county’s detention center in Linden.

Hudson County would also financially benefit since they would realize $5 million in savings from sending these juvenile detainees to Union County and other facilities in nearby counties.

“This is an example of good governmental policy that would maximize the revenue potential of an asset the county has in our newer Juvenile Detention Center,” said Freeholder Chairman Chris Hudak, adding “we are optimistic a final arrangement will be worked out soon.”

In March 2008 the county replaced its former 34-bed detention facility with a state-of-the-art, 76-bed, 70,000 square-foot facility. While the facility is a secure detention center, Hudak said the center had another theme.

“It’s over reaching theme is to promote the concept of normative justice,” the freeholder chairman said, adding at the Linden facility secure detention is viewed as an opportunity to change behavior in a way that will benefit the offender, family and community at large.
Union County has also been having discussions with Hudson County about cutting a deal to move its adult prisoner population to Hudson County.

Although little information has surfaced about how far these talks have gone in regard to this move, in October county sources expected a deal could be finalized before the end of the year. Hudson County sources, though, maintain the talks about the adult inmate transfer are only preliminary and nothing has been written in stone as of yet.

In another measure that raises revenue, the county announced in 2009 it had negotiated and executed a contract, which is still in effect, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This contract provides 10 beds at its Linden juvenile facility, which generates $1 million in annual revenue for county coffers.

The juveniles held at the Linden facility, as part of this contract, have been involved in the juvenile justice system and have left their country of origin for multiple reasons, such as to rejoin family members already in the United States, escape abusive family relationships, fleeing political or religious persecution or work to support their families in their country of origin.

Through its division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for providing a safe and appropriate environment from the time these children are placed in custody, reunited with family members or sponsors in the United States or returned to their country of origin by the Department of Homeland Security.

Since September, Union County has also been in talks with Hudson County to house Union County jail adult prisoners, but the county has been mum on how those discussions are progressing. According to sources, the discussions were in the preliminary stage in October, but to date no finalized plans have been agreed upon.

Hudson County jail houses approximately 1,700 inmates and has room for 600 more. The Union County jail has struggled to reduce inmates for years because of overcrowding.

In October 2013 Union County Assistant Prosecutor Susan Gleason earned a statewide excellence award for her efforts to improve the juvenile justice system in Union County.

New Jersey became one of the nation’s first states to replace the national Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative program in 2004, which first was developed in the 1990s in response to national trends reflecting a dramatic increase in the use of detention for juveniles despite decreases in juvenile arrests.

“Susan’s work with juvenile defendants is completely ahead of the game. She not only pursues fair and just prosecutions on behalf of our victims but she has made tremendous strides toward ensuring that juvenile defendants are on the path towards rehabilitation, not recidivism,” said acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park at the time.

Although these changes reflected well on the center, in June 2014 the media light shined once again on the Linden juvenile facility when it surfaced that a former juvenile detention officer was charged with engaging in a sexual relationship with a teen detainee for more than a year.

The shakeup followed a joint investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office Special Prosecutions Unit and Union County Police Department, which uncovered that the alleged sexual contact between the former juvenile detention officer and the male victim actually took place between March 2012 and January 2013.