NEWARK - There are new developments in a Kane In Your Corner investigation into why the new Newark City Jail on Clinton Avenue is not being used. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka claims the investigation was wrong and the jail is actually in use, but exclusive photos taken inside the cell block after his remarks appear to show otherwise.
For weeks, Kane In Your Corner has reported that the new city jail, in the basement of police headquarters, was sitting empty. The city spent millions to build it but never opened it. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka finally addressed the issue over the weekend on News 12 New Jersey, in an appearance on New Jersey Power and Politics.
"The jail is being used every day," Baraka insisted "They take transitional prisoners in when they pick people up. They put them in there."
But News 12 New Jersey obtained photos taken inside the cell block after Baraka made his comments that appear to contradict the mayor's remarks. The photos show room after room of vacant cells, empty hallways, pristine lavatories, and a control room in which most of the equipment isn't even plugged in.
The head of the police union says the pictures speak for themselves. "Every door is open as you can see in one of those pictures," says Jim Stewart with Newark's Fraternal Order of Police. "There's no people in any room. The control room was dark." Stewart also says none of his officers have ever been assigned for duty at the new jail, and Kane In Your Corner has previously reported that the city recently informed the U.S. Department of Justice that it would not be using the facility.
For the first time, Mayor Baraka did give an explanation for why the city has not shut down the old city jail on Green Street, where prisoners and police are forced to endure squalid conditions. The mayor says the new jail is not a suitable replacement. "The jail was not built to hold people for a longer period of time. It does not have individual cells. It has group cells where people are put in collectively," he said.
That appears to be true: photos inside the new jail show no cells for individuals, all hold two people or more. But Stewart says it's a little late to be thinking about that now, since the city spent millions in tax dollars to build the new lockup.
"How did this facility's blueprint get approved?" he wonders. "How did that slip through the cracks? And now in 2014, we're saying, 'Well, it's not the ideal set-up and it's not going to work for us.' Now what do we do with it?"
The union also offers a theory as to why Baraka might be so convinced the new jail is being used, despite the evidence to the contrary. Newark's 5th Precinct is in the same building, and it has a couple of holding cells for people who are first arrested; Stewart believes the mayor has them confused with the much larger city jail.
News 12 New Jersey's Walt Kane explained all this to Sakina Cole, the mayor's spokesperson, and asked if Baraka wanted to clarify his comments. Cole stuck by the mayor's initial comments, replying, "Walt, I don't know where you're getting your information, but it is incorrect."
It should be noted that the new jail was not built under Baraka's watch. He's only been mayor for a couple of months. Cory Booker was mayor when the jail was built three years ago.