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New Jersey Fires 52 Prison Guards in 2007

Guards in New Jersey prisons have been found guilty of everything from smuggling drugs and cell phones to simply failing to show up for work. From 2005 to 2007, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) had to fire 154 of its guards; 52 were fired in 2007 alone.

“The department is very meticulous in policing itself,” said DOC spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer. “It’s important to note that incidents are not ignored and we deal with them swiftly and as efficiently as possible.”

Those “incidents” included two DOC employees who were terminated once they became the subject of criminal investigations. DOC guard Michael Bruinton was fired after being charged in Dec. 2007 with smuggling drugs, cell phones and Ipods to Blood street gang members and members of the Lucchese crime family at the East Jersey State Prison. He is accused of accepting $500 for each delivery.

Higher up on the DOC ladder, Gerald Kennedy was the assistant director over the prison system’s capital construction unit until it was discovered that he was steering contracts to companies that had been created by him and his friends. Kennedy and his cronies accumulated contracts worth $678,000 before the scheme was uncovered. He was arrested on April 3, 2008 and charged with official misconduct, bribery, money laundering, theft by deception, contract fraud and conspiracy.

In other incidents, at least two DOC guards were fired for abusing their positions. Others were found guilty of housing known enemy prisoners in the same cell, with disastrous results. Some lost their handcuffs; others lost batons. One guard gave a prisoner access to a razor blade. Another guard, who did not possess a valid firearms card, was issued a weapon with ammunition.

Union officials said they were not alarmed at the number of guards that have been terminated for misconduct.

“Given the size of our department and the number of people it employs, those numbers ... are very low,” stated Scott Derby, president of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Commanding Officers Association.

“They find cell phones, weapons or drugs daily,” observed Steve Brzdek, president of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association. “Realistically, there are only two ways for contraband to get into prisons: It’s either through visits or it’s through the staff.
... It’s time for internal affairs to weed out the bad apples.” ?DOC officials were tight-lipped about the firings, but did release details of the 781 staff disciplinary charges issued in 2007. Some involved guards who assaulted prisoners. In one case, the wrong prisoner was sent to a court hearing. In another, a guard was sanctioned after wrecking a state-owned vehicle while transporting a prisoner, then failing to report that the prisoner had been injured.

A more recent case involves DOC guard James Gallichio, who was charged in March 2008 with official misconduct and sexual assault for having an intimate relationship with a female prisoner.

No comparison was made between the New Jersey DOC’s misconduct statistics and those in prison systems elsewhere. However, Derby candidly observed that the DOC “could always improve.” Indeed.

Source: Newark Star-Ledger

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