NJ COs want more masks, fresh air breaks as COVID-19 grows

Officials said they agree on the premise of breaks and fresh air, but they do not want COs leaving the facility


By Chris Franklin
NJ Advance Media Group

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, N.J. — The coronavirus has affected businesses, education, the workplace and numerous aspects of everyday life. Social distancing and flatten the curve are, in just a few weeks, well-known everyday phrases.

The same swift change also affects those who are incarcerated and those tasked with watch and guarding them. In Cumberland County, the virus has forced changes and other forms of adaptation at its county jail.

Cumberland County was not supportive of a state Supreme Court ruling to release inmates from the jail to help stem the spread of the virus. Now the county is dealing with its corrections officers over the ability to leave the jail and their concerns about catching the coronavirus.

The corrections officers’ union, PBA Local 231, through attorney Stuart Alterman said the county should honor the officers to go outside of the facility to get fresh air.

“Who does something like this?" Alterman asked. "Who in their right mind does something like this, especially in a correctional facility, where they are unilaterally and sua sponte letting inmates out to avoid the coronavirus, but they are keeping the sworn officers locked inside like animals? The SPCA would not permit such treatment.”

The union also says limited amounts of masks and gloves have been disseminated, with masks being worn for several days at a time.

In a statement to NJ Advance Media, Cumberland County said that N95 masks have been issued to jail staff, and that while the masks are not generally issued, they are being used in the jail.

Additional steps have also been ordered, among of which include inmate details cleaning and disinfecting the facility throughout the day to prevent the virus from spreading and turning one of the pods as an isolation ward for anyone who may have come in contact with someone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

County officials also said they do agree on the premise of breaks and fresh air, but they disagree on the way the officers want them.

“Cumberland County does not argue about the Officers being entitled to breaks, and we agree that they should be able to have fresh air,” the county said in the statement. “However, we do not agree that they should be allowed to leave the facility and wander off. What if something happens and we can’t find them? This is what causes us concern. Certainly, there should be a compromise that we can all agree to, but getting their vehicles and leaving the property is not acceptable.”

As of Monday, New Jersey has 16,636 cases of the coronavirus, with 198 deaths. Cumberland County has 12 cases.

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©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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