County approves ordinance to create civilian task force

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — An ordinance forming the Essex County Correctional Facility Civilian Task Force was recently approved, according to a Dec. 12 announcement from Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Freeholder President Brendan Gill. Creating the ordinance was a collaborative effort and its adoption allows the process of nominating members to the task force to begin.

“Creating the civilian task force is an example of what we can accomplish when people with different perspectives work together. My goal as county executive is to operate a safe and professionally run jail, which is evidenced by the accreditations received and inspections passed by the ECCF. The creation of the civilian task force creates another layer of accountability to demonstrate to the public our continued commitment,” DiVincenzo said.

“The establishment of the Essex County Correctional Facility Civilian Task Force represents a new commitment from the freeholder board and our County Executive Joe DiVincenzo to protect the rights of all inmates held in the Essex County Correctional Facility,” Gill said. “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. I thank the ACLU, advocacy groups such as First Friends and Faith in Essex, concerned citizens of Essex County and beyond, and the county administration for their diligent work during this process.”

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. It will act independently of county government and have the authority to inspect the ECCF; interview corrections officers, inmates and detainees; and review systemic issues and concerns.

The ordinance provides the framework to create the nine-member task force. The task force will consist of a representative from a recognized detainee advocacy group, a representative from a recognized inmate advocacy group, a member who is in good standing with the Criminal Defense Bar, a corrections expert, an individual who was formerly incarcerated, a social justice advocate, an expert in the medical field and one member of the public. An executive director will be responsible for the administration of the task force. All members are nominated by the county executive with the advice and consent of the freeholder board.

Input into how the ordinance was written was received from the administration, board of freeholders, stakeholders who represent the interests of ICE detainees who are housed at the Essex County Correctional Facility and the ACLU. The ordinance was introduced on first reading on Oct. 23 and approved on second and final reading on Dec. 11.

Members of the public who are interested in serving on the task force or who would like to recommend someone as a member can send resumes to the Essex County chief of staff at taskforce@admin.essexcountynj.org.

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