Cardinale Urges Halt to Demolition of Prison Until Camden Jail Overcrowding Addressed

December 18, 2009

Senator Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, urged a halt to the demolition of the Riverfront State Prison, New Jersey’s most modern correctional facility, until Camden County has come up with a strategy for dealing with the severe overcrowding of its jail.

“I learned on Thursday that the Camden County has approximately 1,100 people confined in a jail designed for 400 inmates,” Senator Cardinale said. “Clearly, it is simply wrong for the advocates of demolition to argue that this prison’s cells are unneeded.”

The Riverfront prison was expanded since it was built in 1985 to house 631 inmates, and has handled far more than that when needed. It is being demolished to make way for apartments and retail shops that are unlikely to provide employment for as many people as the prison did, Cardinale said.

“This prison could be used to end overcrowding, put people to work feeding and guarding prisoners, and prevent suspects from being released simply because the state and county don’t have the resources to house them,” Cardinale said.

State officials say they expect to receive $2 million for the 17 acres of riverfront land after taxpayers pay for the prison demolition, Cardinale said.

“Now I learn that it would take at least $100 million to expand and renovate Camden’s jail,” Cardinale said. “Given Camden’s fiscal condition, I have to ask how much of that $100 million will come from state aid rather than local financing.”

Cardinale said he learned of the jail overcrowding yesterday when Camden County Freeholder Jeffery Nash came to testify before the New Jersey Commission on Capital Budget and Planning. The commission tabled a motion proposed by Cardinale that called for delaying the demolition.

“With little or no supporting evidence to back up their claims, Governor Corzine and others have argued that housing units and retail shops will provide more and better employment for Camden residents than a prison would. I have always doubted the accuracy of this claim, as I doubt that the cells are no longer needed to house prisoners.”