ESSEX AND UNION COUNTIES, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. and the Union County Board of County Commissioners announced on April 22 plans to enter into a memorandum of agreement in which the Essex County Correctional Facility on Doremus Avenue in Newark will house Union County inmates. The agreement potentially would provide Essex County with about $11.3 million in revenue annually and would save Union County approximately $20.6 million annually, according to press releases from both Essex and Union counties.
Union County Jail, located in Elizabeth, will cease the long-term housing of prisoners effective July 1, and will begin operating as a hub to process, temporarily detain and transport prisoners to the Essex County Correctional Facility. Shuttle buses will also be available to transport those wishing to visit prisoners in Essex County. Also, the Union County Department of Corrections will become a division of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
“All levels of government are facing tremendous fiscal pressures, and it’s imperative that we all look for ways to pool resources, reduce expenses and generate new revenue while providing the same high quality of service to our constituents. I want to thank Gov. Phil Murphy for supporting this bicounty agreement and our partners from Union County who worked with us to reach an agreement that truly benefits the taxpayers of both of our counties,” DiVincenzo said. “The bail-reform policies enacted by New Jersey before the pandemic resulted in fewer people being held at county correctional facilities. This partnership is a great opportunity for Union County to find an alternative way to house their inmates without having to operate a costly facility and for Essex County to maximize the capacity of our accredited complex and generate additional revenue.”
Union County officials decided to pursue the agreement as the number of prisoners housed at the jail have fallen nearly 67 percent in the past 10 years, from more than 1,000 prisoners to currently 345. Overall, the declining numbers at Union County Jail reflect national trends and the impact of New Jersey’s Criminal Justice reform laws. Crime rates have declined sharply in recent decades, and the arrest rate has declined as well.
“This agreement provides proper facilities for our prisoners, and we have worked to minimize the impact on many of our employees at the jail,” Union County manager Edward T. Oatman said. “The number of inmates at the jail have continued to dramatically decline. As a result of this and other factors, detention costs per inmate have more than doubled during the same time. Our savings will be substantial.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Essex County would house an average daily population of 300 inmates from Union County. Union County would pay Essex $104 per day for each Union County inmate housed at the ECCF. Essex County will provide video conferencing booths for Union County to conduct remote hearings and interviews with Union County inmates. Union County would be responsible for transporting Union County inmates to the Union County Courthouse for in-person hearings and for transporting Union County inmates back to Union County when they are released. The agreement would be for five years, with an opportunity to extend the partnership.
“Ultimately, this was a tough decision, but one that had to be made,” Union County Commissioner Chairperson Alexander Mirabella said. “This agreement will save the county tens of millions in taxpayers’ dollars and provide responsible detention for our inmates.”
“The plan to enter into this memorandum of agreement with Union County, which would add revenue for Essex County and allow appropriate use of Essex County’s most modern facility, is one that I support,” Essex County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson said. “As changing conditions result in a smaller population of inmates, it only makes sense for counties to work together to ensure both fiscal and social responsibility. The proposed agreement will assist both counties financially and allow Union County’s inmates a facility in a neighboring county, where the hardship to visiting families will be minimized and access to attorneys will not be compromised.”
Corrections officers who currently work for the Union County Jail have the opportunity to interview with Essex County or the NJ State Department of Corrections through the Intergovernmental Transfer Program. According to Union County, most jail employees have found employment at various institutions, and the county has also conducted a jobs fair. Approximately 53 corrections officers and civilians will remain employed at the Union County Jail for its hub operations, which will operate 365 days a year.
Essex County has similar agreements to house Gloucester County inmates and U.S. Marshals inmates at the Essex County Correctional Facility. It has similar partnerships to house juvenile detention residents from Passaic, Union and Hudson counties at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark; Union County closed its Juvenile Detention Center in 2019, saving $24.6 million a year and sending its detainees to Essex County.
Opened in 2004, the ECCF has been accredited by the American Correctional Association, which sets the standards for correctional facilities and detention centers in the United States, American territories and some foreign countries. It also has reached 100 percent compliance with the New Jersey State Department of Corrections every year since 2006 and has been accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities since 2007.