The Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders has announced that it is re-evaluating its plans to build a new county correctional facility adjacent to South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.
Freeholder Director Joseph Derella indicates that this reassessment is in reaction to a series of recent events that may affect the need for the new facility.
“The inmate population in our county correctional facility has been substantially reduced, due not only to COVID-19, but also bail reform initiatives and changes in sentencing practices.” Derella said. “While the COVID-19 related reduction in the inmate population may appear temporary, the Freeholder Board believes it is prudent to assess the extent to which the Attorney General’s COVID-19 inmate release programs will accelerate the trend away from pre-trial detention and incarceration for non-violent offenses.”
Deputy Director Darlene Barber believes social justice concerns will continue to drive efforts to reduce incarceration for those awaiting trial.
“Bail reform has certainly reduced the number of people detained pending trial because they cannot afford to post bail and there are now technology-based solutions to ensure that those charged with criminal offenses will appear in court that are much more cost effective”, Barber stated. “Along with bail reform, criminal justice initiatives that reduce the use of incarceration as punishment for certain non-violent offenses are likely to receive more attention in the wake of recent social unrest.”
“We will consider a number of options including the potential of using available correctional space in nearby counties and constructing a small holding facility for detainees awaiting transport,” Derella stated. “COVID-19 has devastated our economy and the resultant loss of tax revenues require us to carefully re-evaluate the need for large capital projects at this time, particularly if there are adequate alternatives that are less costly to the taxpayers.”
“We see the profound events of the last few months as an opportunity to shift our focus toward community development including the expansion of educational, recreational and cultural opportunities,” said Derella. “We envision this site being used for a community center promoting the freedom to learn, play and enrich our community. If the events of the last few months have taught us anything, it has taught us that we must invest in our people, particularly our young people, to ensure that we have a just and fair society that incarcerates as few people as possible.”