By Lauren Wanko
“We’re overcrowded,” said Camden County Department of Corrections Warden David Owens.
The Camden County Correctional Facility inmate population jumped significantly over the last year. The jail capacity is 1,267. Today the institution’s filled with about 1,500 inmates. Owens thinks there’s a number of contributing factors, including a growing and aggressive police force.
The Camden County Police Department has tripled its size since May of 2013. Officials say with more officers on the ground there’s more arrests — a record high 11,000.
Owens insists the economy is another factor.
“What we’re seeing now is individuals, they can’t bail themselves out so that’s why I say the economy. Our experience is if they don’t get out within three days then they’re not getting out. Well these are people who basically are here for $1,000 bail,” Owens said.
The county continues to hire more officers who are now on 12-hour shifts, along with national consultants and additional staffers to handle paperwork. The correctional facility’s instituting a program that will accelerate the intake process at police headquarters and Owen says the institution’s become more aggressive with their work release and intervention programs for non-violent inmates with minor offenses.
“For those individuals have an intervention program that allows us to supervise them, keep an eye on them, but they don’t have to be incarcerated,” said Owens.
It costs taxpayers $107 a day per inmate. An average stay here is about 30 days. That’s $3,210 an inmate.
“Overcrowded institutions are expensive institutions,” said Owens. “I’m a law enforcement officer. I want to see bad guys locked up. But only lock those individuals who need to be locked up.”
It’s not just inmate costs. As a result of a 2009 class suit, the Camden County Correctional Facility’s required to submit their inmate population regularly to a federal judge. And more recently inmates filed lawsuits due to overcrowding.
“If we can manage our population and manage at a good number then that keeps down the lawsuits. It keeps down the assaults, it makes managing the institution much easier,” Owens said.
Seventeen percent of the inmate population here is mentally ill. Working with health care providers to transition these inmates into facilities and out of jail should be another focus, says Owens. Still the warden expects the inmate population to climb slightly over next four to five months because of the growing number of new police officers on the street. But long-term he also expects to see a drop in population because of the bail reform act Gov. Chris Christie just signed into law.