TRENTON, NJ -- In an effort to transform the county corrections system and save Mercer County taxpayers dollars, the Mercer County Board of Freeholders approved a plan to consolidate the county corrections system with its counterpart in Hudson County.
The two-year agreement with Hudson County was approved in a unanimous vote by members of the Freeholder Board at their Tuesday night meeting. Under the proposal, which will take effect on January 1, Mercer County will pay Hudson County $11,169,000 per year for up to 300 inmates, plus a flat rate of $102 per inmate per day for any additional inmates above 300 in a calendar year
The Mercer County Correction Center (MCCC) currently spends approximately $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.
Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said previously that the agreement will save Mercer taxpayers $12 million annually while preserving the job of every Corrections officer, adding that that the implementation of the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act reduced the number of inmates and their length of stay but fixed costs at the Mercer County Correction Center (MCCC) is 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,” he said.
New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Colligan sent a letter to the County Freeholders before the vote saying the proposal will have "a significant long-term negative impact on Mercer County taxpayers."
“After listening to the PBA and members of the public voice countless concerns and questions about the cost and the dangers associated with their prison merger with Hudson County the Mercer County Freeholder Board simply lumped the proposal in with routine business and voted unanimously to pass it with no debate among the Board. They walked into that room last night knowing they were voting “yes”.
"This means that all seven Mercer County Freeholders were willing to ignore expert staffing reports and documented public safety risks in favor of a report submitted by Hudson County consultants that claims millions of dollars in fake savings by simply ignoring costs like overtime, fringe benefits, and staffing that will be needed. Rather than table the proposal in favor of gathering more information to protect taxpayers and assure the safety of the general public, these Freeholders simply punted on their responsibilities and plowed forward," added Colligan.
Mercer County officials have said that all Mercer County non-superior Corrections Officers would be offered positions at Hudson County Correction Center and all Mercer County Superior Officers would be retained in Mercer County. An intake section of the jail staffed by superior corrections officers would remain operational. There would be a 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.
Each day, approximately 30 to 50 inmates are at the Mercer County facility for either a trial or processing. Under the new arrangement, Mercer County inmates would be transferred for trial or to meet with their attorney. During on-going trials inmates would be housed at a portion of MCCC that would remain operational.
In defending the plan, Hughes also pointed out that a 120-bed drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility when no such separate facility exists in Mercer County Corrections. At the Hudson County facility, inmates receive health, wellness and substance abuse treatments unavailable at locally. 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.
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