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Cumberland County commissioner calls for state inspection of jail amid COVID-19 outbreak

Cumberland County commissioner calls for state inspection of jail amid COVID-19 outbreak

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BRIDGETON — A Cumberland County commissioner on Tuesday sent a letter to the state Department of Corrections asking for an inspection of the county jail amid a COVID-19 outbreak there.

More than 40 inmates and 11 officers and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a news release from Commissioner Jack Surrency.

Since mid-October, county officials have not responded to requests to confirm the number of cases in the facility.

County and DOC officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

“Over 40 inmates, 11 officers and staff, and a food service worker have tested positive,” Surrency said. “That’s over 50 people on Warden (Richard) Smith’s watch and in his house. That’s unhealthy, unacceptable and violates every COVID policy on the books.”

The state DOC does not oversee county jails, which fall under the purview of the county in which they are situated. However, the DOC does conduct inspections of those facilities.

In his letter to DOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks, Surrency asks that state officials inspect the jail.

“I am requesting that you use the full powers of your office to conduct an immediate inspection of the Cumberland County jail, in accordance with administrative code, to hold Warden Smith compliant,” the letter states. “I am also asking that you immediately dispatch your staff to Bridgeton to ensure the jail is brought into full compliance with COVID-19 rules.”

In October, county spokesperson Jody Hirata confirmed the second case of the disease in an inmate and an additional four cases in officers, bringing the total number of cases in officers and staff to at least 18.

Since at least May, infighting has grown among county officials over DOC reforms in response to the pandemic.

Recently, officials scrapped plans for a new $65 million jail and announced plans to close the current facility, laying off more than 100 employees and sending inmates to be housed in other counties. In early October, the county Board of Commissioners — what used to be called the freeholder board — voted to stop accepting inmates from Gloucester County and to send Cumberland County inmates to jails in Atlantic and Burlington counties.

Contact: 609-272-7241

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