NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Freeholders have approved the creation of a civilian task force to oversee the Essex County Correctional Facility, which was the focus of a scathing U.S. Inspector General report that found health and safety problems the facility housing immigration detainees.

The Essex County Correctional Facility Civilian Task Force will provide “transparency and accountability” of the ECCF staff, protect the “lives, health, safety and rights of all people confined at the ECCF” and ensure the “conditions of their confinement are safe, sanitary, respectful and humane,” according to the ordinance.

The task force will act independently of county government and have the authority to inspect the ECCF, interview corrections officers, inmates, detainees, and review systematic issues and concerns.

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“The establishment of the Essex County Correctional Facility Civilian Task Force represents a new commitment from the freeholder board and County Executive Joe DiVincenzo to protect the rights of all inmates held in the Essex County Correctional Facility," said Freeholder President Brendan Gill. 

"Upon its implementation, the task force will be the strongest independent oversight body of a correctional facility, in the entire nation, created without a court order," Gill said.

The U.S. Office of Inspector General issued a report in February that found numerous deficiencies at the facility, which houses immigration detainees through a $49 million contract Essex County has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The report stemmed from an unannounced Inspector General spot inspection of the facility conducted in July 2018. In its report, the Inspector General found numerous health and safety violations including:

  • Open packages of raw chicken leaking blood all over refrigeration units and identified slimy, discolored, foul-smelling lunch meat, which appeared to be spoiled, held in the refrigeration unit;
  • Ongoing leaks in every housing unit holding detainees;
  • Unsanitary shower stalls with mildew, mold, and peeling paint; 
  • Failure to notify ICE about serious matters as required by the contract, including that a detainee found a guard's loaded handgun left in a facility staff bathroom.

The county administration, freeholders, stakeholders who represent the interests of ICE detainees and the ACLU all played a roll in crafting the ordinance, which was introduced on first reading on Oct. 23 and approved on second and final reading on Dec. 11.

The task force will consist of a representative from a recognized detainee advocacy group, a representative from a recognized inmate advocacy group, a member who is in good standing with the Criminal Defense Bar, a corrections expert, an individual who was formerly incarcerated, a social justice advocate, an expert in the medical field, and one member of the public. 

An executive director will be responsible for the administration of the task force. All members are nominated by the county executive with advice and consent of the freeholders.

“Creating the Civilian Task Force is an example of what we can accomplish when people with different perspectives work together," DiVincenzo said. "My goal as county executive is to operate a safe and professionally run jail, which is evidenced by the accreditations received and inspections passed by the ECCF. The creation of the Civilian Task Force creates another layer of accountability to demonstrate to the public our continued commitment.”

Members of the public who are interested in serving on the Task Force or who would like to recommend someone as a member can send resumes to the Essex County Chief of Staff at taskforce@admin.essexcountynj.org.