NEWARK, NJ - The new secure youth residential facility that Newark does not want was originally slated for Woodbridge, and now a state Senator from Union County says he’ll take it.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union County) said Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is more than welcome to lease or buy the Union County Juvenile Detention Center in Linden. The jail was shuttered last year and the remaining youth offenders were moved to the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark.
“It’s either going to sit empty or produce revenue,” Scutari said of the shuttered facility in Linden.
The governor’s office released a statement last week announcing a new secure youth residential center somewhere in North Jersey. The plan comes as the state is looking to closing the outdated Jamesburg youth jail in Monroe and move towards more regional centers that provide treatment and community space for young offenders.
“We look forward to the opening of smaller regional centers to allow young people the ability to be closer to their families and home communities,” said the statement. “These regional sites will provide a secure residential setting for young offenders while providing treatment, rehabilitative services, and community space.”
There is currently a push from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice to have Murphy to close Jamesburg and another youth prison known as Hayes. The group also doesn’t want to see any new jails or rehabilitation centers open for young offenders since the existing ones are operating under capacity.
The plan to close Jamesburg came during the tail end of former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. The announcement came as the state saw its incarcerated youth population decline and the plan was to build more modern facilities throughout the state that would be more accessible.
Before the state Economic Development Authority could issue bonds for the projects, the sites needed to be approved by the State Leasing & Space Utilization Committee and the State House Commission.
The State House Commission approved all three sites on Dec. 7, 2017. About two weeks later, when the leases needed to be approved by the Utilization Committee, Woodbridge no longer appeared on the agenda.
“I think they felt they could get it done with one less spot,” said Scutari, who was chairman of the State Leasing and Space Utilization Committee at the time and remains so.
The plan to build secure facilities for youth offenders did not go over well with mayors of the proposed sites. They lamented that the state EDA did not fully inform them that youth jails would be built on those sites, and raised concerns about how a youth jail would affect property values in the neighborhood.
Woodbridge’s business administrator and Mayor John McCormac did not respond to requests for comment when asked why their township was removed from consideration for a youth jail.
McCormac, a member of Murphy's transition team, told the State House Commission in November 2017 that the township was in talks with state about purchasing the Woodbridge Developmental Center site for about $5 million.
Murphy in 2018 signed legislation that allowed Woodbridge to buy the site from the state. It's not clear if the township ever followed through with the deal though.
About one week before Murphy was sworn into office, the state EDA approved $162 million in bonds for the Ewing and Winslow sites.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka originally said no new youth jail would come to his city and he wouldn’t want any new youth rehabilitation centers to open. He later reiterated his position after releasing a joint statement with the governor that announced a new secure North Jersey facility.