Newark to close notorious city jail cited for suicide risks

By Noah Cohen | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 26, 2016

NEWARK -- After decades of complaints, several suicides and concerns raised by federal authorities, Newark is set to close its aging jail and open a holding facility at the city public safety department's headquarters.

The cell block at Newark's Clinton Avenue public safety complex, which officials described as state-of-the-art, will house up to 82 detainees -- 73 men and 9 women -- compared to the old jail at 31 Green Street, which held up to 50 men and 8 women, according to the city.

"Serious problems with overcrowding and sanitation at the Green Street cellblock have existed for decades," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

The Clinton Avenue holding facility has been outfitted with high tech security systems, a more secure sally port for transferring detainees into the facility from police vehicles, a central control room for monitoring detainees, more space for people being held there, a widespread camera system and cell doors without bars to help prevent suicides, officials said.

The Clinton Avenue lockup, called the new Municipal Processing Unit, is scheduled to begin receiving detainees within the next 90 days, according to city officials.

"I am pleased that [Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose] took the initiative to close Green Street and replace it with a humane, advanced, state-of-the-art facility," Baraka added in a statement. "And by centralizing the processing of detainees in one place, this new facility will save money and add to police efficiency enabling more officers to patrol our streets."

Located in the basement of the former Green Street Police Headquarters and opened in 1936, the old jail has a troubled history.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation found a host of issues at the facility, including lack of proper training for offices, procedures for preventing suicides not being followed and the layout of the jail. Authorities reported at least seven suicides within the last decade at the Green Street cellblock.

"The layout of the Cell Block offers only limited lines of sight into the cells, and the cells all contain suicide hazards such as exposed cross bars which could be used as hanging points," according to a federal report on the city's police department.

The old jail has prompted costly lawsuits stemming from issues including suicide prevention. Officers also reported rodent infestations at the notorious property.

Ambrose added the Clinton Avenue facility will be safer for officers and detainees.

"It also offers a decent and respectable environment for those individuals required to temporarily spend time there," he said.

Officials previously said the largely grant-funded Clinton Avenue public safety building, which also houses administrative offices, a city emergency operations center and the police division's 5th Precinct, would be used to hold an overflow of detainees.

The DOJ's report called the public safety building a "modern holding facility which would likely mitigate concerns about suicide hazards," NJ Advance Media previously reported.

People arrested by Newark police are booked at the centralized processing unit on Clinton Avenue rather than at precinct houses, officials said. The city facility is used for temporarily holding people charged with a range of crimes before they are released or transferred to the Essex County jail.

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