Essex County Correctional Facility receives ACA accreditation for fourth consecutive time

Photo Courtesy of Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.
The Essex County Correctional Facility had its accreditation renewed by the American Correctional Association for the fourth time. Above, the corrections team accepts the accreditation at the ACA conference in New Orleans, La., during the first weekend in August.

NEWARK, NJ — Essex County announced Thursday, Aug. 11, that the Essex County Correctional Facility earned accreditation for the fourth consecutive time from the American Correctional Association, which sets the standards for correctional facilities and detention centers in the United States, American territories and some foreign countries. 

The Essex County Correctional Facility scored a 100-percent rating to receive the three-year accreditation. The ECCF first earned ACA accreditation in 2013, and accreditation has been maintained since then.

“Our priority at the correctional facility is to provide a safe and secure environment for our corrections officers, civilian staff and inmates. Continually earning ACA accreditation demonstrates our commitment to this mission and our continued dedication to making the ECCF the best facility it can be,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said. “Obtaining accreditation is not an easy process and requires the involvement of all our offices and employees. I thank them for their professionalism and attention to detail.”

“The ECCF is the largest facility of its kind in New Jersey, and I am proud to have earned accreditation for the fourth consecutive time,” Essex County chief of staff Phil Alagia said. “Under the county executive’s leadership, we took our corrections department from being under a federal consent order for over 25 years and transformed it into a first-class agency that provides custody for not only Essex County inmates, but also Union County, state and federal marshals’ inmates.”

Elected officials in Essex and Union counties entered into a memorandum of agreement in spring 2021 for the ECCF to house Union County inmates. Union County Jail, located in Elizabeth, ceased the long-term housing of prisoners effective July 1, 2021, and now merely serves as a hub to intake, process, temporarily detain and transport prisoners to the ECCF. According to elected officials, this partnership is saving each county millions of dollars annually.

One group of inmates the ECCF no longer houses are ICE detainees. In April 2021, just one week after announcing the ECCF’s partnership with Union County Jail, DiVincenzo announced that the ECCF would no longer house ICE detainees. By Aug. 17, 2021, all ICE detainees had been removed from the ECCF. While Essex County depopulating the ECCF of ICE detainees was hailed as a triumph by community advocates, many still expressed displeasure that the move came not as a stand against immigration policy and detainment in this country but to make more room at the facility to hold other prisoners.

Regardless, the composition of inmates at ECCF is quite different from its composition three years ago when the facility received ACA accreditation.

“When a facility is accredited by the ACA, it means the leadership and staff are meeting high standards every day. I want to thank County Executive DiVincenzo for giving our department the resources to ensure our facility can meet the demand and our corrections staff for working as a team to ensure we maintain high operating standards,” said ECCF Director Al Ortiz, who will soon be leaving the position as director.

“We are proud of our members,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 106 President Nate Richardson told the newspaper. FOP 106 represents all sworn supervisors within the Essex County Department of Corrections. “We thank County Executive DiVincenzo and chief of staff Alagia for recognizing that it is our staff that keeps this very large ship afloat.” 

Union secretary Jim Troisi, who is himself an ACA auditor and recognized subject matter expert on correctional operations, told the newspaper on Aug. 12, “We look forward to the arrival of newly appointed Director Ronald Charles next week. We believe this will be the first time that someone who came up through our own ranks will be at the helm.”

Charles, a former president of the West Orange Board of Education, has more than 35 years of experience in public safety in the public and private sectors. He is a certified instructor with the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety and most recently, since December 2015, served as director of the Union County Department of Corrections. Charles began his career with the Essex County Department of Corrections and worked his way through the ranks, from sergeant to lieutenant, captain to associate warden, and ultimately to retiring as an assistant director. Charles assumed the position of ECCF director on Aug. 15; Ortiz remains with the county through Oct. 1 for a five-week transitional period.

ACA representatives conducted their audit of the ECCF from June 6 to 9. The accreditation certificate was presented to Essex County during the ACA conference in New Orleans, La., which was held Aug. 4 to 7. 

The 62-page ACA report submitted by the review committee included many positive observations about the ECCF and its staff. For instance, commenting on the intake process, the report stated: “It was quite evident to the visiting committee that the booking section of the ECCF was especially attentive at intake to everyone received, and concerned about each and every inmate’s safety and security.”

Regarding the interaction between corrections officers and inmates, the report stated: “Overall, the visiting committee was impressed with the custody, care and control; the firm, fair and consistent attitude; and the individual and person-to-person specific communication and interaction between the facility security staff and the inmates at ECCF. The visiting committee was impressed with the professionalism, knowledge and training of the security staff.”

Observations in the report about facility maintenance included: “The facilities maintenance department was obviously attentive to the physical plant operations, including emergency power water and wastewater.”

Regarding medical and health care received by inmates, the report stated: “During offender interviews, I had very little complaints related to care. It was a pleasure visiting Essex County Correctional Center; I found the staff to be hospitable, engaged and open for suggestions that would improve the health care program.”

The ECCF also received praise for its religious services programs: “The visiting committee was especially impressed with the director of religious services for her commitment and passion to bringing a variety of services and spiritual activities to this large inmate population.”

The ECCF received 100-percent compliance on the mandatory areas and 98.38-percent compliance in non-mandatory areas. The ECCF was found noncompliant in five areas, which, according to the county, is due to how the facility was constructed when it was built in 1998. It received waivers for those areas of the physical plant that could not be changed. 

The county corrections department has received 100-percent compliance with the New Jersey State Department of Corrections inspections every year since 2006 and has been accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities since 2007.