New Jersey’s Jailhouse Goldmine: A Moral Obligation to Provide Effective Rehabilitation?

By Christopher Zoukis

Like most municipalities, Cumberland County in southern New Jersey needs to raise its revenues.  Last year it found a very effective way to do just that: fill up its jail.

Jails as For-Profit Businesses

While most of the developed world see institutions like hospitals, universities, and prisons as essential public services, the reality is that they are also businesses.  Patients, students, and prisoners are commodities to be traded.  These men and women are at a vulnerable time in their lives and need the best that the world’s richest country can offer them, but instead the institutions charged with their care look to see how they can profit from them.

Cumberland County Jail: Selling Jail Space

In 2013 Gloucester County officials decided to close their jail.  To the south, Cumberland County Jail’s population had fallen by almost two hundred over the preceding five years leaving empty beds.  The two counties agreed to a deal, and the first inmates from Gloucester County arrived at Cumberland County Jail, in Bridgeport, in June 2013.  Today there are usually at least a hundred Gloucester County inmates in Cumberland Jail at any given time.

The deal gives Cumberland County $10,000 a day for the first hundred inmates, then $83 a day for each additional one.  For one hundred Gloucester County inmates, Cumberland County stands to make $3.65 million each year.  Indeed, in the first fourteen months they have billed Gloucester County over $4.3 million.

Cumberland Freeholder Director Joseph Derella sees the program as an example of the county developing much needed new sources of revenue.  He believes the program is exceeding expectations and wants to extend it further.

Jail Populations as an Indicator of Success?

In what Cumberland County Jail’s Warden Bob Balicki sees as an unintended but beneficial program, the municipal and New Jersey State Police are now locking up around seventy more people a month than they were before the program started, thus boosting the jail population even higher.  Despite all the extra inmates at the jail, Warden Balicki has seen no need for extra staff.

Although many inmates remain in local jails for just a short time, many others can spend a year or more serving sentences or simply waiting out lengthy court proceedings before being sent to state prison.  It’s a miserable and anxious time, and being held further away from families and friends means fewer visits, and widens rifts between inmates and those on the outside.

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