TRENTON, NJ -- Changing the way that Mercer County operates it’s corrections system for inmates will save millions of taxpayer dollars and provide a modern and therapeutic system for inmates, their families, and staff. That’s the goal outlined by Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes in his presentation before the Mercer County Freeholder Board Thursday evening.
In presenting an overview of the proposal, Hughes underscored that the proposal to reexamine the county corrections system can save Mercer County taxpayers $12 million per year through operational changes while minimizing the impact on current corrections employees and the families of inmates.
“The New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act is functioning as intended -- to make the justice system fairer for all, not just those who can scrape together bail money,” said Hughes. “One of the outcomes is a profound reduction in the number of inmates and their length of stay, but due to fixed costs, we are seeing skyrocketing per-inmate costs.
“We believe that as our inmate population further declines, we can offer relief to our taxpayers by entering into an agreement with a county that has excess capacity at its correction center and by closing nearly all of the century-old county jail,” the county executive added.
The Mercer County correctional facility is the oldest such facility in the state at 120 years old. Since 2015, the jail’s population has declined from 792 inmates to 350 inmates in 2019.
“An analysis of the Mercer County Correction Center (MCCC) conducted by consultants NW Financial Group, Inc. provided the County with a comprehensive report that recommends entering into a two-year agreement with Hudson County Corrections. Dennis Enright of NW Financial presented an overview of the findings at the public Freeholder meeting.
Currently, MCCC spends an estimated $141,000 per inmate, per year. Under the proposal, it is estimated that Mercer County’s per inmate cost would be reduced by approximately $34,000 if they are housed at HCC.
Each day, approximately 30 to 50 inmates are at the Mercer County facility for either a trial or processing. Under the proposed intergovernmental transfer, Mercer County would guarantee the timely delivery of inmates for trial or to meet with their attorney.
For the duration of an on-going trial, inmates would be housed at a portion of MCC that would remain operational. An intake section of the jail also would remain operational and staffed by superior officers.
The proposal would reduce the number of uniformed corrections personnel by 57 percent from 200 to 122 uniformed personnel. Many officers would remain at Mercer County Corrections while some officers would be offered positions at the Hudson County Correction Center.
There would be an additional reduction of 14 nurses who may be reemployed with the private entity that provides health care at MCCC while another four administrative positions may be eliminated.
At the Hudson County facility, inmates would receive health, wellness and substance abuse treatments unavailable at locally. Hughes also pointed to a 120-bed drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility when no such separate facility exists in Mercer County Corrections. The HCC visitation schedule is more flexible for family visits compared to Mercer
Since 2013, four other New Jersey counties – Gloucester, Hunterdon, Salem and Sussex – have implemented full or partial transfer correction programs.
Further action on the matter may be undertaken by the Board of Chosen Freeholders in the coming weeks.
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