Essex County approves civilian panel to review jail housing ICE detainees

Updated Dec 19, 2019

Essex County has announced the creation of a nine-member civilian panel to review the county’s jail, which houses ICE detainees, though critics say the move is an attempt to silence the calls for the county to end its ICE contract.

County officials said the Correctional Facility Civilian Task Force — comprised of formerly incarcerated people, advocates, various experts and a member of the public — will hold the Essex County Correctional Facility accountable in light of recent events, including a lawsuit filed by an ex-ICE detainee who said guards allowed another inmate to attack him.

County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said the task force, approved Dec. 12, will ensure “conditions of their confinement are safe, sanitary, respectful and humane," according to the ordinance for the board’s creation.

But local activist Jay Arena told NJ Advance Media the task force is “pathetic” and will fail to put a stop to a grassroots movement calling on the county to end its contract with ICE.

Essex County received more than $2.5 million a month to house ICE detainees in 2018.

“I think this is just an attempt to placate our movement and hope that we’ll just go away," said Arena, a member of the advocacy group Jobs and Equal Rights for All. “We’re going to continue to fight until they end the contract."

DiVincenzo said the board will act independently of the county, and will have the ability to interview guards, inmates and detainees about the facility’s conditions.

“Upon its implementation, the Task Force will be the strongest independent oversight body of a correctional facility, in the entire nation, created without a court order,” he said.

Brendan Gill, president of the Essex County Board of Freeholders, has said he would like to responsibly wind down the county’s deal with ICE. In the meantime, the task force will assist in providing detainees with humane conditions, he said.

“While there is strong sentiment to end the contract, there is equally strong sentiment to protect the rights of all inmates currently being held in the ECCF,” Gill said in a statement. "The Citizen Task Force was established for this purpose, and I look forward to the Task Force carrying out its mission.”

DiVincenzo said nominations to fill the nine seats on the task force can be made through the county.

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