2018. It was the best of times at the Essex County Jail (according to Joe D); it was the worst of times at the Essex County Jail (according to the inmates and their spouses). For years, County Executive Joe DiVincenzo told anyone who would listen that his jail was the best run jail in the land. In the summer of 2018 the DHS Inspector General’s staff came and said “not true”. Suddenly the kitchen manager was fired and the county set off on a quick project to fix a leaking roof, leaking cells, moldy and mildewed showers and more.
Fast forward 18 months to a Covid-world. Jails are Petri dishes; self-distancing is impossible and the medical care is completely outsourced. Two inmates have died of the virus and Joe D is again saying all is well. There is soap, hand sanitizer and masks for all. Testing is available for anyone who needs it. Should we believe him this time? Inmates and spouses say “no”.
There are people in our jail who are ‘civil detainees’, ie. not charged with any crime. They do not need to be in jail ever, certainly not during a pandemic when it could become a death sentence. Governor Murphy has issued an executive order to allow jails to evaluate their populations and release prisoners who qualify. We understand that Joe D cannot release anyone on his own say-so, only ICE has the authority. But there is nothing stopping him or his freeholders from publicly calling on ICE to release the detainees.