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Union County Jail Closing, Transferring Inmates To Essex In Move To Save $103M

Union County Jail
Union County Jail Photo Credit: Google Maps

The Union County Jail will be closing its Elizabeth facility and transferring its inmates to the Essex County Jail in Newark -- saving the county more than $103 million.

Effective July 1, inmate housing will cease and the Elizabeth facility will begin operating only a hub to intake, process, temporarily detain and transport prisoners to the Essex County Jail. 

Shuttle buses will also be available to transport those wishing to visit prisoners in Essex County.

County officials decided to pursue the agreement as the number of prisoners housed at the jail have fallen nearly 67 percent the past ten years, from more than 1,000 prisoners to currently 345. 

The five-year memorandum of agreement the County of Union has approved with Essex County to provide jail services has an option for renewal. 

The Union County Department of Corrections will be changed to a division of the Union County Sheriff’s Office under the new agreement.

“This agreement provides proper facilities for our prisoners, and we have worked to minimize the impact on many of our employees at the jail,” County Manager Edward T. Oatman said. 

“The number of inmates at the jail have continued to dramatically decline. As a result of this and other factors, detention costs per inmate have more than doubled during the same time. Our savings will be substantial.”

There are 243 employees at the jail including Corrections Officers and civilian personnel, most of who have found employment at various institutions, and the County has also conducted a jobs fair. 

Approximately 53 corrections officers and civilians will remain employed at the Union County Jail for its hub operations, which will operate 365 days a year.

The county's Workforce Development Board services was made available to all jail employees, who if they wished, were able to take advantage of job training, resume assistance, education, and other employment programs. The County held a jobs fair for jail employees.

“Ultimately, this was a tough decision, but one that had to be made,” Union County Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Alexander Mirabella said. “This agreement will save the County tens of millions in taxpayers’ dollars, and provide responsible detention for our inmates.”

Opened in 2004, the Essex County Correctional facility has been accredited by the American Correctional Association, which sets the standards for correctional facilities and detention centers in the United States, American territories and some foreign countries, since 2013. 

It also has received 100 percent compliance with the New Jersey State Department of Corrections every year since 2006 and has been accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities since 2007.

Overall the declining numbers in Union County’s jail reflect national trends and the impact of New Jersey’s Criminal Justice reform laws. Crime rates have declined sharply in recent decades, and the arrest rate has followed, falling as well.

In 2019, Union County also closed its Juvenile Detention Center, saving $24.6 million a year, sending its detainees to the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark.

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