New Newark Jail Hopes to Save Money, Lives

December 20, 2016 | Law & Public Safety, Politics
Newark officials unveiled a new jail at Police Headquarters on Clinton Avenue.

By Michael Hill

Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose took the mayor and media on a walking tour of the city’s new jail in the basement of Police Headquarters on Clinton Avenue — a facility that’s no comparison to the Third World looking cell block at 31 Green Street.

“As we know, over the years I’ve always said that some of our detainees ran from the police because they didn’t want to go to the cell block. That’s how deplorable it was,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose describes the new jail as state of the art. It can house nearly 80 detainees at a time. It has showers, storage to hold inmates’ belongings and cameras to watch just about every nook and cranny — from when arrestees are driven in to the sally port and taken into an interlocking room, down an elevator to holding cells with steel supports to hold mattresses. When’s the last time you saw a jail with no metal bars?

“In the old facility, as you see, they have bars. They could tie stuff on to the bars. That was a concern. Right here you can see the doors, there are no bars in there. There’s less things that they can tie ligatures on to,” said Ambrose.

The issues with the old jail at 31 Green Street are well documented, going all the way back to 1984 and the Gibson administration.

In 1984, the city conceded the jail at 31 Green Street was probably in violation of human rights, and the Justice Department said the conditions constituted cruel and unusual punishment and were threats to inmates’ health and lives. Thirty years later, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and Justice raised major concerns about Green Street.

Ambrose said, “In the last ten years we’ve had exactly eight attempt suicides. Seven were successful.”

Newark has paid a heavy price — millions of dollars — in losing and settling lawsuits over officers not following protocols to take away inmates’ belts and inadequately monitoring suicidal inmates, among other issues.

“It’s not only going to save the city money, but it’s going to save lives, individuals who have committed suicide,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “We’ve just settled a case, maybe a month or so ago around Green Street. So, it is very fresh in terms of what it has cost the city and to the many officers who’ve been down there dealing with those kinds of conditions. It’s horrible for them for decades and now we get the opportunity to give them a better place, so I’m happy about it.”

All those arrested in Newark will be brought here and booked here, no longer going to ward precincts and transferred to Green Street before they might go to county jail. The city plans to start using this new jail within 90 days.