LINDEN, NJ - The Union County Juvenile Detention Center in Linden has officially closed its doors today.
According to the County of Union, this closure is due to cost-savings measures that will save millions, all the while ensuring the continued care of its youth offenders.
The closure marks the beginning of a five-year agreement with Essex County to provide ongoing juvenile detention services.
County officials decided to seek a shared services agreement as the number of County juvenile detainees at the facility has continued to show a long-term dramatic decline.
The average daily population of County juveniles has declined from a high of more than 43 residents in January 2012 to an average of just about ten this past year. A total decline of more than 77 percent.
"The agreement with Essex preserves the rights, safety, and dignity of incarcerated youth and minimizes the impact on affected employees of the former Linden facility," said Union County Manager Edward T. Oatman. "Ultimately this is a prudent decision that had to be made, and one that will realize substantial savings for the County."
Any remaining Union County detainees have been safely transferred to the Essex County Juvenile Detention facility in Newark, and all future offenders will be detained there.
The closure is expected to save $24.6 million over the first three years alone, according to Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski.
"This agreement not only realizes savings but also provides responsible and proper detention services," said Freeholder Chair Kowalski.
The County had considered other facilities, but the Essex County facility was picked because it is nationally accredited, offers an all-day school, and recreation programs including a swimming pool.
The County of Union will continue to provide transportation for the youth and their families to the Essex County facility-which is a total distance of about 5.8 miles away.
In all, 82 County employees are impacted by the measure including 56 juvenile detention officers, 12 senior juvenile detention officers, seven supervisors, and seven civilian employees.
The County's Workforce Development Board was made available to all employees, and separated workers were, if they wished, able to take advantage of job training, resume assistance, and other employment programs. A number of employees were rehired for similar positions at Essex County and a number of others found employment with the County of Union.
Overall, officials attribute the decline in detainees at the Union County facility in large part to the effectiveness of the state's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. This is a comprehensive approach that provides mechanisms to detain fewer youth and relies on proven, family-focused interventions, education, mental health treatment and opportunities for positive youth development.
While no immediate determination has been made for the re-use of the Union County Detention Center once it is closed, the County will explore the most effective and efficient repurposing of the facility, added County Manager Oatman.