By Rebecca Panico, Correspondent
UNION COUNTY, NJ — Standing behind businesses along Broad Street in Elizabeth stands the Union County Jail, where those who are awaiting trial are held. It’s a not-so-welcoming place to be. But for recently appointed Director of the Union County Department of Corrections Ronald Charles, jail is where he’s always worked.
Charles started the job Dec. 7, and he brings 29 years-worth of experience at nearby correctional facilities with him.
“I’m just getting to know people here, getting to know the prospects, the law enforcement and civilian staff,” said Charles, 50, of West Orange. “I’m walking the jail, walking the departments.”
Union County Department of Corrections Assistant Director George Blaskiewicz served as the acting head of the department after Brian Riordan left the position in July after serving for seven years.
Charles started out as an Essex County Corrections officer in 1986, rising through the ranks to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, associate warden and then finally associate director of the Essex County Department of Corrections from 2006 until 2011.
From there, Charles worked as facility administrator and facility training administrator at Delaney Hall Detention Center in Newark, a privately-run detainee facility that contracts with government agencies such as Union and Essex counties.
In November, Charles was re-elected to the West Orange Board of Education, where he served as president during his first term. He’ll continue to serve on the board, though not as president, he said.
“My presidency finishes in one more week,” he said, adding that, “I’ll remain on the board but not as president. So time will not be an issue.”
Charles comes into office at a pivotal time for the jail where reforms are underway. A 2014 report from Luminosity, a criminal justice consulting firm, showed that the jail was overcrowded: its operating capacity was estimated at 798, but was responsible for an average population of 1,026 in 2010.
Since that report, inmate numbers have gone down. When LocalSource spoke with Charles on Dec. 21, the inmate census was 663, Charles said.
“The Luminosity report was done prior to my arrival,” Charles said. “I think Luminosity worked all aspects of the criminal justice system … You have to work with the courts to process the system faster.”
Charles noted that about 25 inmates are also sent to an additional facility, Logan Hall, which specializes in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Union County Jail formerly sent inmates to Delany Hall, where Charles once worked. Both facilities are owned by Education and Health Centers for America.
Meanwhile, a report from the State Comptroller’s Office, which examined overtime expenses at jails from 2010 to 2012, showed that Union County spent about 20 percent of its budget on overtime pay. The report indicated that county jails should monitor administrative overtime – time spent finishing administrative tasks or responding to gang disturbances – and look for ways to reduce time spent on such tasks.
Charles, whose annual salary is $115,000, hopes to run cost-saving analysis at the jail and continue to update technology at the facility to make operations run more efficiently.
“I would like to see technology infused in the classification area here,” he said, pointing to a system that assesses each inmate based on their background and determines the level of supervision needed or housing assignments.
“We’re looking at the whole technology package, looking at moving operations into the 21st century,” he said.
Charles will be operating a facility that operates with approximately 295 corrections officers and supervisors and 34 civilian employees.
In his former position as assistant director of Essex County Department of Corrections, he supervised over 700 employees and wrote a financial review process for the department’s more than $100 million budget with department heads and administrative officials.
County Manager Alfred J. Faella hired Charles after reviewing more than 50 resumes from candidates nationwide.`
“Ronald Charles has an outstanding record of public and private-level experience in corrections,” Faella said in a statement. “He has managed the administrative and fiscal operations of two major correctional facilities, and had his boots on the ground as a corrections officer for many years as well. We look forward to working with him.”