NEWARK, NJ — Essex County is ending its contract to house federal immigration detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, officials announced.
The move to eliminate ICE detainees from the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark came after it entered into a Memorandum of Agreement last week with Union County to house inmates from that county's jail in Elizabeth. Starting Aug. 23, there will be "zero" ICE detainees left at the county facility, according to officials.
Due to lack of sufficient space in the county prison to house both ICE detainees and Union County prisoners, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said, the new partnership with Union will offset the revenue it formerly received from ICE.
“We have had a very solid working relationship with ICE during the last 13 years. It has always been in the best interest of the detainees to remain close to their family, friends, attorneys and community organizations helping them in a facility that was safe and secure,” DiVincenzo said in a statement. “This partnership is a great opportunity for Union County to find an alternative way to house their inmates without having to operate a costly facility and for Essex County to maximize the capacity of our accredited complex and generate revenue.”
The county is anticipating about $11.3 million in revenue from its agreement with Union. This revenue is based on Essex County housing an average daily population of 300 inmates from Union, according to officials. Under the new agreement, Union County would pay Essex a daily rate of $104 per inmate per day that is housed at the correctional facility, officials said.
The Union County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an MOU with Essex County during its April 22 meeting. The next day, Essex County officials officially notified ICE of its intent to depopulate the correctional facility of detainees.
A contract with the federal government says that ICE has 120 days to remove detainees from the jail, which means there will be no detainees in the facility by Aug. 23. ICE will decide where the detainees currently housed in the jail will be transferred. As of April 28, there are 165 ICE detainees in the facility.
When reached, ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Essex County will provide video conferencing booths for Union County to conduct remote hearings and interviews with Union County inmates, however, Union would be responsible for transporting its county inmates to the Union County Courthouse for in-person hearings and for transporting Union County inmates back to Union County when they are released. The agreement would be for five years with an opportunity to extend the partnership.
“The Essex County Board of Commissioners joins Essex County Executive DiVincenzo in the decision to end the contract with ICE and thereby end the confinement of ICE detainees at the Essex County Corrections Facility,” Essex County Board of County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson said. “It is commendable that other partnerships, particularly the recently announced agreement with the Union County Board of Commissioners, will aid Essex County in maintaining fiscal responsibility.”
For nearly a decade, Essex County has been a proponent for the consolidation of county facilities and made it known it was open to entering into an agreement with another county.
After the county jail experienced a declining population, a statewide bail reform enacted before the pandemic resulted in a significant reduction in the number of individuals housed at the county correctional facilities and other county jails throughout the state.
DiVincenzo has advocated that it “makes more fiscal sense” for counties to merge their jail operations instead of operating facilities that are half empty.
In Newark, the county's contract with ICE had been met with significant pushback over the years.
In 2019, Newark City Council President Mildred Crump called for the end of Essex County’s contract with federal authorities that allowed for immigrant detainees to be housed at the county jail.
After Essex County first approved the contract worth over $49 million with ICE authorities in 2011 to detain immigrants at the facility, opponents to the contract claimed that the prison was financing the county on the backs of immigrants.
In 2018, Newark City Council was also asked by dissenters to pass a symbolic resolution that opposed the county’s contract. The council said then that it had no jurisdiction over the matter since it was a "county issue."
Other local councils had passed resolutions speaking out against similar contracts in Hudson County, such as Jersey City and Hoboken.