September 30, 2007

Still no accountability on juvenile detention center

At the September 6, 2007 Union County freeholder meeting the Board refused to answer when I asked when the new juvenile detention center would be opened.

The last time the county committed to an opening date was in the Star-Ledger on 4/15/06: “The facility should be ready for occupancy in August 2007, said Union County Spokesman Sebastian D'Elia.”

Loss of life

After the death of a 17 year old on Mother’s Day 2003 the Child Advocate reported that the county’s “disregard” of rules let the teen hang himself. The advocate went on to report that the county “set the stage for his death”. The Child Advocate also stated that the county had a disregard for basic human rights and held "juveniles" three to four to a cell for 18 - 20 hours a day in which they ate and slept in 8 x 10 cockroach-infested cells.

Edward Sincalir, Jr. hanged himself on an exposed sprinkler head which was cited as a violation and suicide hazard by the state in a report sent to the county seventeen (17) months prior to his death. The county never made the recommended repairs.

The county also ignored pleas from the corrections officers union. The Star-Ledger reported on 5/13/03: “A lawyer for Council 8 representing 30 officers at the detention center said the union had filed numerous complaints with the county, warning that “Something like this would happen because of the overcrowding and under staffing” at the facility. “For the last couple of months the union has been documenting and complaining about the conditions there, but I don’t think they really addressed our concerns,” said attorney Michael Bukosky.

The loss of tax-dollars

In an 11/30/2000 Worrall newspaper article, then Regional Editor Mark Hrywna reported that after spending more than $2 million the freeholder’s scrapped its plans to construct a new JV center. At that time board chairman Dan Sullivan said the cost to build a new center “is just not worth it” given a declining population at the current facility.

According to records obtained by the UCWA through the Open Public Records Act it shows the center was at over capacity at the time of Sullivan’s statement. In the same article Freeholder Louis Mingo, stated he did not want to “waste a lot of money if we don’t have to. We want to make sure that if we make an investment, its on solid ground.”

The cost at the time to build a new center was projected to be $20 million. The cost of the current project is roughly $40 million - plus a human life.
Other costs to date associated with scrapping the original 1998 plan:

Attorney fees to date, with no end in site, resulting from a 17 year olds death at the center: $330,000 (county costs alone)

State mandated updates to make the old facility clean and safe(r):
Approximately $800,000

Maintaining the state mandated cap on the center and housing youths out of county:

Total wasted money since the death of Edward Sinclair, Jr.: $1,685,952

The future of the 42-year-old structure located above the county employee parking garage is undecided. The UCWA recommends the freeholders move their offices to the facility and have freeholder meetings up there to remind them and the public of what happens when government can’t be held accountable. This would also offer the public a safe and convienent place to park during meetings.

Other freeholder comments regarding their accountability for the facility and the death of a 17 year old:

On December 16, 2004, after I was escorted from a freeholder meeting by two county police officers while making a public statement regarding the counties neglect of the JV center, then Freeholder Chairman Angel Estrada went on a long diatribe in defense of the county's treatment of juveniles.

"Let me just talk about Eddie Sinclair for a second the young angel
(Sarcastic) that we often hear unfortunately did die. But I think we also need to look at the realities in society in terms of what get people to where they are and the locations that they've been in not to say that I am not favorable to an individual who commits a crime and has to pay his punishment to society but the reality is that often we find ourselves that for some reasons individuals don't find their way out of the loop in time by which they do things that are totally improper and incorrect.

I by no means believe that this board is a cause and effect of this gentleman’s death and the reality is that there are many things that are behind the scenes that we are were not fully getting in terms of other potentials that may arise from this so the reality is that through the years I'm sure that you've all read articles in the papers where by this is not a problem of Union County this is a problem of the state of NJ. This problem of institutions that basically are not serving individuals in the right capacity. I'm willing to spend as many millions of dollars in terms of schools rather than detention centers but we have to do these things as well.

This board has been prepared and has moved on this and is working to achieve those goals. But understanding is that in the same token society and individuals in society have to take on the responsibility of things that they actually do that may cause harm to other individuals."

Oh really…

No employee or elected official of the state or the county has been held accountable for the death of Edward Sinclair, Jr., the condition of this facility or the treatment of countless other juveniles. No one has been written up, reprimanded, fined, suspended or voted out of office.

Child advocate’s report.