ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County officials have appointed the nine inaugural members to the newly formed Essex County Correctional Facility Civilian Task Force. The appointments were made during the freeholders’ June 10 meeting.
“Even though we have been responding to the coronavirus for the past five months, the creation of the civilian task force always remained a priority. Despite the obstacles created by the pandemic, we remained committed to this initiative, completed the interviews and appointed the board in the allotted six-month time period,” Essex County Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said. “The ECCF has earned accreditation from a variety of well-respected national and state corrections organizations. We believe the task force, one of the first civilian boards of its kind in the country, will be a valuable resource to help Essex County build upon our commitment to provide a safe and secure atmosphere for our inmates, detainees, corrections officers and staff.”
“I was proud to sponsor the ordinance to create an independent task force that will serve as the first independent oversight board of a county correctional facility in the entire country not mandated by court order,” Freeholder President Brendan Gill said. “I thank our County Executive Joe DiVincenzo for working with us to create it, my colleagues on the freeholder board, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, advocacy groups such as Faith in Essex and First Friends, and all concerned citizens for their hard work in completing this process.”
“As public servants, we bear the responsibility of ensuring that all individuals, including those currently incarcerated, receive fair and equal treatment under the law. The formation of this task force shows a new commitment from the leadership of our county to address the concerns of ECCF inmates and detainees in a transparent fashion,” Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson said.
The intent of the task force is to provide “transparency and accountability” of the ECCF staff, to protect the “lives, health, safety and rights of all people confined at the ECCF” and ensure the “conditions of their confinement are safe, sanitary, respectful and humane,” according to language in the ordinance. The task force will act independently of county government and have the authority to inspect the ECCF; interview corrections officers, inmates and detainees; and review systematic issues and concerns.
Members of the task force were nominated by the county executive and appointed by the Board of Chosen Freeholders through an established advice-and-consent procedure that is used to fill vacancies on all county boards and commissions. Appointed to the civilian task force are the following:
- Kearny resident James McGreevey is the executive director and chairperson of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation and former governor of New Jersey. He is the chairperson of the task force and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2022.
- Belleville resident Rosa Santana is a program director at First Friends of New Jersey and New York. She is filling the seat designated for a representative from a recognized detainee advocacy group and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2021.
- Newark resident Marshall Rountree is the northern regional coordinator with Collaborative Supportive Programs in Freehold. He is filling the seat designated for a representative from a recognized inmate advocacy group and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2020.
- Springfield resident Rubin Sinins is a principal in the law firm of Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins in Springfield. He is filling the seat designated for a member in good standing of the New Jersey Criminal Defense Bar and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2020.
- Plainfield resident Eddie Cannon has 25 years of experience with the NJ Department of Corrections, retiring in 2011 as acting director of custody at Northern State Prison. He is filling the seat designated for a demonstrated corrections expert and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2022.
- New York City resident Imran Rabbani is a student at New York University and was incarcerated at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center and in a federal adult prison. He is filling the seat designated for a formerly incarcerated individual and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2021.
- Newark resident Rev. Pablo Pizarro is the lead pastor of Lighthouse Assembly of God in Newark. He is filling the seat designated for a social justice advocate and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2021.
- Montclair resident Dr. Chris Pernell is the chief strategic integration and health equity officer at University Hospital in Newark. She is filling the seat designated for an expert in the medical field and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2022.
- Montclair resident Alessandra DeBlasio is an appellate and trial litigator in private practice. She is filling the seat designated for a member of the public and is serving a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2020.
According to the ordinance creating the task force, which was adopted in December 2019, each member must have a certain professional expertise or personal experience to represent a specific segment of the community. The task force members serve on staggered three-year terms; the initial lengths of the terms will vary until after the third year, when all become three-year terms.
All task force reports and recommendations will be distributed to the county executive, ECCF administration and freeholder board.
Retired federal Judge Jose Linares was named executive director of the task force in October 2019. Linares collaborated with the county to nominate the task force members, will work with the task force members to establish the bylaws of the group and will provide day-to-day administrative support for the task force.