NEWARK - A state-of-the-art city jail sits vacant and unused in Newark, while prisoners and police officers are assigned to stay and work in conditions some call "inhumane," a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds, and no one in city government seems to understand why.
The conditions inside the Newark City Jail on Green Street aren't pretty.
"There's no facilities for showers down there," says Newark Police Union President James Stewart. "Things become very inhumane very quickly."
Over the years, the facility has become run down, infested with rodents and prone to outbreaks of mold. Officers who work there say the climate control and ventilation systems are an adventure, requiring them to wear coats and gloves in the winter and swelter in the summer. It would be one thing if the city simply couldn't afford a new and improved jail facility, but it already has one. It's located in the basement of the multimillion-dollar police headquarters that was unveiled in 2011. It's just never been opened.
"The building's been constructed and it's not able to be used in the method it was designed for," Stewart says. "Who's answering for that? Who's accountable?"
Conditions at the current jail have been an issue for decades. According to court records, the city reached a settlement with the federal government back in the 1980s that required the jail to close no later than December 1986. The deadline was extended several times to allow Newark time to build a new facility. Now that it's open, no one seems to know why the city isn't using it.
After considering News 12 New Jersey's request for information for nearly a week, the Newark Police Department referred Kane In Your Corner to City Hall, where spokesperson Sakina Cole said, "We don't have any solid answer as to why the jail facility is not being used. That's among the host of questions about the police department that we'd like to have answers to."
The city's response comes one day after Newark Mayor Ras Baraka talked about asking the New Jersey attorney general to oversee the Newark Police Department. "Perhaps they will be able to get the answer to your question," Cole says.
While there has never been an official explanation, the police union says people in the previous administration of Mayor Cory Booker and Police Director Samuel DiMaio gave them various off-the-record explanations. Among them: construction issues that may have caused the facility to not meet NJ Department of Corrections standards, other design flaws or logistical problems. Since courtrooms are located upstairs in the old Green Street building, Stewart says it's easier for prisoners to make their initial court appearances when housed in the old facility, something he says should have been taken into consideration in construction plans.