Times of Trenton Editorial Board Calls for Detailed Study Before Closing Correction Facility

No Need to rush deal to move Mercer inmates to Hudson

"Both sides in this debate have valid points. There needs to be a careful, deliberate and independent study of all the pros and cons of outsourcing prison services."

 

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes' plan to house county prison inmates at Hudson County's jail is either a shining example of our local government looking after the interests of taxpayers and inmates or a foolhardy plan that does that does neither.

It all depends upon who you listen to.

Hughes maintains that the Mercer County Correction Center in Hopewell Township is obsolete, too costly to maintain and does not offer adequate services for inmates. He says the choices come down to relocating inmates or building a new jail, which the county estimates would cost $400 million to $500 million.

His choice is to outsource jail services to another county and pay a set fee that, in time, will results in substantial savings. He also points out that Hudson's jail offers better medical and rehabilitation programs for inmates.

Hughes estimates that by the second year of the plan, Mercer would realize a savings of $18 million to $20 million.

But the unions that represent correction officers and others paint a very different picture.

County jail plan worth $21M a year

They point out that the plan will involve the loss of about 200 jobs, a big hit for workers who contribute to the county's economy.

Opponents also dispute the county's contention that it will reap any savings. Frank Crivelli, a lawyer for the corrections officers' local union, blasted Hughes' plan as ill contrived, not properly studied and failed to account for unforeseen future costs.

As for better inmate services in Hudson, critics point out that the same contracted company that offers medical services at the Mercer jail also has the contract at Hudson.

Both sides in this debate have valid points. There needs to be a careful, deliberate and independent study of all the pros and cons of outsourcing prison services.

It would be to the county's benefit to work with all the stakeholders in choosing a third party to conduct such a study. That way both sides could commit to abide by the study's recommendations.

One thing the county should not do is rush into a deal.

Could $22 million solve jail issue?
Could $22 million solve jail issue?
A report says it's possible for that price, but Executive Brian Hughes' administration says larger issues would remain.

In early February, Hughes said the county was "a ways off" from presenting any detailed plans to move inmates to the Mercer County Board of Freeholders. But a little more than a week later, he said expected a contract with Hudson County to be signed by spring.

The freeholders, who questioned the plan during a Feb. 23 meeting, should take care to examine all aspects of the proposal.

In the end, whatever action is taken may only be a temporary solution. Mercer County is participating in a not-yet-completed study to explore building a regional jail. Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cumberland and Gloucester counties are all funding the study.

A regional approach may yield a more cost-effective and humane way to incarcerate inmates.

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