NEWARK, NJ - A legal fund will be created by the county for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees held at the Essex County jail following a federal report that found unsafe and unsafe conditions at the facility.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's inspector general report outlined several violations that were found during its July 24, 2018 surprise visit, including slimy, foul-smelling and unrecognizable hamburgers served to detainees.
About a month after the report’s release, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the freeholders announced the $750,000 legal fund will be set aside in the 2019 budget. Specifics of how the new fund will operate are still being worked out, the county said in a release.
“We have always been committed to providing the best possible conditions for people being detained at our Correctional Facility,” DiVincenzo said in a statement. “This will ensure detainees have the legal representation they are entitled to.”
The county in 2016 received about $40 million to house ICE detainees at the jail on Doremus Avenue in Newark as part of a controversial contract. The contract has been in place since 2011.
Jay Arena ran against DiVincenzo in November on a platform that was strongly opposed to the county's contract with ICE. He said all ICE detainees should receive free legal representation paid for by the state, but it shouldn’t be funded in part by a county contract he views as wrong.
Essex County spokesman Anthony Puglisi said all the items mentioned in the report were remedied within 24 hours of the visit. The inspection was completed last year, so the violations have been "taken care of for quite some time," Puglisi said.
The violations in the report were jarring.
The report outlined an incident where a detainee alleges he or she found an Essex County Department of Corrections guard’s loaded gun while cleaning a staff bathroom. ICE confirmed it was never notified of the incident, the report said, which marked the fourth time in less than a year that the facility failed to notify ICE of incidents.
Inspectors also found moldy bread in the facility’s kitchen refrigerators. Kitchen staff reported that all unused bread had to be put into trash bags or cans to make bread pudding once every two or three weeks, the report said.
Kitchen management posted a sign that prohibited throwing out any bread, the report said. “We waste zero bread," a photo of the sign said.
Roof leaks were found in every housing unit as well as moldy showers, the report said. Housing mattresses were in such "poor condition" that detainees used bed sheets to tie the seams of mattresses together so the filling wouldn't come out, the report noted.
The county first approved a contract with ICE in 2011 and later extended it. In 2017, the county received $117 per day for each bed, according to public records obtained by TAPinto Newark. Approximately 216 Essex County Department of Corrections' guards oversaw 797 male detainees at the time of the inspector general's site visit.
ICE issued a contract discrepancy report after it learned that the county jail didn’t notify the agency of the gun incident. The penalty could result in a fine up to 5 percent of invoiced amounts.
The county is currently appealing that fine, Puglisi said.
Residents have also asked Newark City Council to pass a resolution denouncing the county's contract with ICE. The council has not done so since it says the jail is a county and federal issue, not a local one. Jersey City and Hoboken have passed resolutions denouncing ICE facilities in Hudson County.
Mayor Ras Baraka, facing pressure from a group of Rutgers professors, has called for Essex and Hudson counties to end its cooperation working with federal immigration authorities in an opinion piece.