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NJ Prison "Emergency" 12 Years Old

On January 20, 1994, New Jersey governor Christie Whitman renewed a 12 year old "emergency" declaration that forces counties to keep more than 3,600 state prisoners in their jails and accept the state's payment rate. As earlier reported in PLN the New Jersey state supreme court had imposed an April 22, 1994, deadline to end the "emergency". The court ruled that given the continuing problem the state had to stop using emergency powers granted under the Disaster Control Act.  The court did not tell the governor what she should do but noted that the legislature could pass a law declaring a continuing emergency and give the state the power to continue the current system.

Starting in January, 1994, the state increased from $45 to $58.50 the amount it pays the county per day per prisoner. The increase will cost $7.1 million through June 30, when the current budget expires.

This spring the state will break ground on a $200 million, 3,500 bed prison in Bridgeton, the largest state prison ever built. The first 500 beds should come on line by the Spring of 1995, with the remainder becoming available in 500 bed increments after that. As of December, 1993, there were 23,133 New Jersey state prisoners, including 3,629 housed in county jails under the emergency decree. State prisons and youth facilities are operating at 133.5% of design capacity. In 1981 the prison system held only 7,940 prisoners. The increase is due to harsher sentencing laws. Since 1981 the state has expanded every existing state prison, opened a prison on land leased from the federal government on Ft. Dix and opened three new prisons. The new prisons, which cost more than $150 million to build, were designed to hold 3,000 prisoners but now hold more than 5,000.

Source: Corrections Digest, January 26, 1994.

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