I can no longer sit idly by and allow the Star-Ledger to continue to smear my personal reputation and the reputation of the professional men and women of the Essex County Correctional Facility.

The constant editorials vilifying the work being done focus on an inspection from one year ago and ignore evidence repeatedly provided to the press that the concerns about the ECCF were addressed immediately. The editorial writers have crossed the line, resorting to printing what I believe is libelous.

I don’t deny the concerns raised during the July 2018 inspection by the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General existed. However, my administration has been attentive to the ECCF operations and we quickly and decisively respond when issues arise. I believe the shortcomings were outliers and are not indicative of regular conditions at the ECCF.

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I fully understand the Star-Ledger’s role to expose the things that were wrong in the jail. But the editorial writers ignored critical parts of the initial report, as well as a follow up report (based on the SAME 2018 inspection).

The inspectors wrote that our corrections staff responded immediately to the concerns, even before the inspectors left the site, and the facility meets current operating standards required by ICE. Don’t take my word for it; these are excerpts from Pages 18-19 of the report:

  • “ERO Newark oversaw an immediate, thorough, on-the-spot response to remedy the food service findings.”
  • “The kitchen area remains well organized and in a high state of cleanliness and good operating order.”
  • “The ECCF policy for the use of restraints is compliant with the ICE 2011 PBNDS.”
  • “The recreation areas within the ECCF are compliant with the ICE 2011 PBNDS.”
  • “ECCF immediately undertook an extensive and systematic cleaning and renovation of the ICE detainee housing units.”

All they had to do was turn the page, but the Star-Ledger would rather continually accentuate the negative.

Perhaps that’s why they declined to tour the facility after five invitations since their first editorial ran in February. There were no stipulations. The editorial writers were told they could pick the time and day with no advance notice and could choose what they wanted to see.

If they had come, they would have seen evidence of other initiatives taking place to enhance conditions.

  • We have allocated $750,000 and have contracted with Seton Hall Law, Rutgers Law and Legal Services of NJ to provide enhanced legal representation for immigration detainees.
  • We initiated monthly stakeholder meetings with immigration advocacy groups and, as a result, the menu has been enhanced and plans are underway to install additional showers.
  • Our schedule of supportive groups and educational programs has been expanded to accommodate ICE detainees.
  • We are forming a Citizen’s Task Force.
  • We have invited government officials, immigration advocacy groups, community organizations, clergy and the media to tour the ECCF and see it first-hand.
  • Approximately $1 million has been spent to repair the roof, upgrade shower areas, and conduct air testing; ensure greater kitchen oversight and training, enhance the menu, and to conduct regular food quality testing; and create an enhanced in-house inspection team.

Is the ECCF a “crudbucket” as described by the Ledger? The American Correctional Association, National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and the NJ Department of Corrections don’t think so. Each of these agencies have accredited the ECCF since 2006.

Running a correctional facility is a demanding 24/7 job. Our professionals aspire to high standards of service, conduct and compassion. Despite all that has happened, I still believe the ECCF is one of the most professionally run jails. We take a hands-on approach to ensure it has the resources and personnel to operate efficiently and to maintain the safety and security.

I wish the Star-Ledger had the same commitment to reporting the facts.

Frankly, I believe the Star-Ledger’s reporting on the jail is in keeping with their continual attacks on my integrity, while ignoring the advances we made for Essex County during my 17 years in office.

For the first time, Essex has a Aaa bond rating (the gold standard in financial stability). 25-year-old Federal consent orders over our correctional facility and Juvenile Detention Center were dismissed. The Historic Courthouse was restored after being closed for a dozen years. A state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital was developed. Our parks system has been revitalized and expanded. Turtle Back Zoo has been transformed into a destination. The Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology was opened and our West Caldwell School of Technology is undergoing a comprehensive modernization. In 17 years, we have completed over 400 projects and invested over $1.7 billion to modernize facilities.

If you relied on the Star-Ledger for news, you wouldn’t know about any of this because it is ignored. Because of personal beliefs of members of the editorial board staff against me, they take every opportunity to demean and criminalize what we’ve achieved. They have worked hard to destroy my credibility, but in the process, they have lost theirs.

Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. is the Essex County Executive.