“This is not a time to build new prisons unless they are completely dilapidated and inhumane, then absolutely, but we don’t build new prisons because we are not managing our population.”
~ Anne Manning Martin
Candidates for Essex County Sheriff; Anne Manning Martin, Jeff Gallo and Craig Lane sparred over whether or not to ease overcrowding at the jail by building a new facility. Manning was the only one to oppose the idea, while Jim Jajuga said he would support it only if the state funded it. Ken Berg was not present.
During that discussion, a disagreement broke out about the proper classification of prisoners and the use of bed space for detox centers.
Tom Duggan: Since candidates at both debates complained about overcrowding in all the Sheriff’s Department facilities, does Essex County need a new prison?
JEFF GALLO: “I believe we could use another facility in the Middleton space, but that’s a huge undertaking. We can’t just do it on our own.”
“We didn’t even get windows put in the CAC until this year … we have been asking them for it for six years. It all comes down to the judges as well. They sentence them. We don’t sentence them.”
CRAIG LANE: “There’s definitely a capacity problem. The sheriff was in a rush to get these detox centers. Up until the start of this run, I was president of the union. I sat in on all the meetings when they were setting up the male detox center. Male detox holds 42 beds. They went into a unit that held 8 beds. So, you lost 38 male beds right there. They then took another unit that held 80 males and put in the female detox, so you’ve lost about 112 pre-trial beds, and we cannot afford those.”
JIM JAJUGA, JR. “Transparency is important. So, if we were to continue to have the pretrial detainees placed in an area where there were inmates that were already convicted, that we make sure it complied with all state and local regulations. So, I don’t completely disagree with the practice, but we have to look at it very closely. We don’t want to help foster criminality.”
“One of the biggest issues is overcrowding. There are over 20 inmates sleeping on what are called canoes in the intake. Why? Because a 40 bed female, and 42 bed male detox affected the populations. How do we rectify the problem of overcrowding, if the state would fund an addition, I would be for it.”
ANNE MANNING-MARTIN – “Within the department of corrections we had issues several years ago, where our medium sentenced institutions were packed to the gills and we couldn’t get them classified down to a minimum status. So, you have to look at where your beds are, and why that is. What we found was that we were over classifying the inmates. We came up with an objective, point-based system that you use in your classification, where the inmate gets a score. It’s based on whether the inmate’s a repeat offender; you get a certain point for age, because certain ages commit more crime. They would get points for, and taken away, if they had no disciplinary history. The classification board could override if there were extenuating circumstance.”
“What the objective, point-based system does is, it identifies someone who should be moving down to a lower level of classification.”
“There was a backlog and we fixed that. So, I suggest we take a look at the classification process at the Essex County Sheriff’s department.”
“No, I think we need to better manage our bed space and our population, so, no, the answer to that is no.”
CRAIG LANE: – “Anne, there is no bed space. So, it’s not a matter of dropping them down to an appropriate level, there is no level, and no space at any level. At 10 this morning I was trying to bring in an inmate to classification. I was told we had to move off because they are having an emergency meeting to move 20 inmates to the farm (The pre-release facility in Lawrence). Last Saturday we stopped taking in safetys because we had no room. Our infirmary is designed to hold 24 people. We had 48 in the infirmary, 25 sleeping on the floor at intake. There are no beds. You do need to either get the detox centers out or get the beds back. Again with the capacity problem even with those, they never should have been taken away to begin with. And yes, we do need additional space.”
ANNE MANNING-MARTIN – “When Sheriff Cousins first raised the idea … I read it in my local paper … he said he wanted to open a detox. Because, he said, he was looking at the numbers. And what the numbers said to him were that his sentenced inmates were on the decline, which is going down across the state, and his pretrial [detainees] were on an incline because of the lack of detox and substance abuse treatment in the community. So, yes he took 42 beds for the men, and then offered the same, fair and equal treatment to the women, 84 beds. Yes, he did do that because he saw a need in the community and his sentenced numbers were going down. Sentenced numbers are going down all across the state. This is not a time to build new prisons unless they are completely dilapidated and inhumane then, absolutely. But, we don’t build new prisons because we are not managing our population.”
JEFF GALLO: “I think we manage our population just fine. Yes, pretrial inmates are on the rise, but we can also put them out in their communities, back on the bracelet program if we want to. That is an option and that should be explored. You will free up 40-48 beds at the pre-release center. But, that’s not what this is all about. We don’t have the funding from the state, we don’t have the resources or the money that we should be getting. There is no parity there. Everyone points at the state. Everyone points at us. But, we have the highest inmate population than any other county in the state, and we are the lowest funded per-inmate in the state. But, yet we have the best economy than any state in the country, and we have a lower crime rate than we ever had. So, why is this happening to us?”
“We need the help. If other counties don’t have the amount of inmates that we have, and they are getting the same amount of funding that they’ve always been getting, and we are getting less funding than we have been getting?”
“We just don’t have the bed space to take on all of these mentally ill individuals. Yes, the sheriff had to put a detox in. This county has the worst problem in the state. If we don’t do something who’s going to? So, yes we need those beds for the detox and we need more mental health staffing.”