FLEMINGTON, NJ – Hunterdon County’s decision to enter a shared services agreement with Warren County for housing of its dwindling inmate population was the subject of a report and executive session discussion among the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders Feb. 4.
The new shared services agreement with Warren County is for three years, with an option for a two-year extension, and is projected to save the county $250,000. It was formally approved by the freeholders Jan. 21, and, during executive session, freeholders were presented with an “implementation review” from counsel and sheriff’s office staff.
Hunterdon County’s prior jail shared services agreement with Somerset County ended in September 2019 and, since then, Hunterdon had operated on a month-to-month plan with Somerset County. At the Dec. 30 Hunterdon County Freeholders’ meeting, the board voted to give Somerset County 30-day notice for ending the current month-to-month agreement.
“Warren County offers on-site medical services at their jail while Somerset County Jail does not,” said county business administrator Kevin P. Davis.
Hunterdon County Sheriff Frederick Brown said there are efficiencies in prisoner intake at Warren County, but Davis said county officials were not at liberty to discuss those particular efficiencies due to security concerns.
In August 2015, when the shared services agreement with Somerset County to house Hunterdon County inmates at its facility was announced, the freeholders stated the cost savings would be around $1 million annually, as the Hunterdon Jail was operating at less than half its capacity, with an average of between 70 and 80 inmates per day. The numbers have decreased dramatically, with about half that in Hunterdon inmates total at present.
The agreement with Somerset County had required Hunterdon to pay for a minimum of at least 50 inmates per day, regardless of the number of Hunterdon inmates there were in the facility.
Davis said that as a result of bail reform, the number of Hunterdon County prisoners has dropped “from well above 50 to around an average of 40 per day.”
“We do not expect that number to change much in the future,” he said.
“I would say our inmate population will stay in the 35 to 45 inmates per day area,” he said.
The facility in Somerset County is 15 miles from new prisoner processing operations at the Hunterdon County Jail. Under the original shared services agreement, Hunterdon County was responsible for a $90 per-day prisoner cost as well as all transportation costs between Somerset’s jail and Hunterdon County Court for hearings.
The new agreement with Warren County calls for the same $90 per day per inmate rate, but daily inmate payments will increase 2 percent every year.
Both Somerset and Warren Counties were solicited for proposals in fall 2019. According to Davis, Sheriff Brown recommended the Warren facility as he found the proposal superior in both costs and operation.
Somerset County Jail’s facility has a capacity of 400 prisoners, while Warren Correctional Center has capacity to hold 176 adult offenders, according to its website. Brown said that both Somerset and Warren county jail facilities had adequate space to handle Hunterdon County inmates.
“Both facilities have passed all state inspections,” he said. “The efficiency of Warren County’s booking procedure saves us valuable time. There will be a cost savings in only paying for the number of inmates housed per day instead of a minimum number of 50. Warren County also handles some medical and psychiatry services and mental health evaluations at their facility, allowing for inmates to be properly evaluated on site as opposed to being transferred to a medical facility when it may not be medically necessary.”
“The savings will result in a decrease in the County Sheriff’s Office budget,” he added.
In addition to the “major extra cost drivers” of transportation for evaluation protocols, Brown said transfers to outside medical facilities can pose a security risk to the public.
“We believe by having on-site medical services it should cut down on those security costs and allow, where medically appropriate, inmates to remain in the secured Warren County facility where they will receive necessary care and supervision,” he said.
During public session Feb. 4, Undersheriff Frank Cordero, filling in for Brown, delivered an update on the jail consolidation plan. He read aloud some comments from Warren County Correctional Center Warden Kenneth McCarthy.
“I would like to take the time to thank Sheriff Frederick Brown and the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders for the opportunity to enter into the shared services agreement between our two counties involving the care and custody of Hunterdon County’s inmate population,” Cordero read. “Even though the operation only commenced on Jan. 22, 2020, the cooperation between the Hunterdon County Sheriff’s Office and the Warren County Corrections Department is already evident. The transfer of some 40 inmates was completed on-schedule and without incident. There has been a constant of communication between our agencies with a sharing of information proving beneficial to both.”
McCarthy noted in his comments that although this isn’t the first type of jail shared services agreement in New Jersey, both Hunterdon and Warren officials “are confident it can become a model for others to emulate.”