Privatizing county jail causes major controversy

CAMDEN, N.J. - December 17, 2009

This may have to do with plans to privatize the county jail and the people who work there.

At the news conference Thursday night, the Camden County Board of Freeholders announced that in their efforts to privatize the Camden County Jail, some of them have been victims of acts of vandalism on their homes and property.

"A fire was set on leaves adjacent to my house," Freeholders Director Louis Cappelli said.

"People are outside slashing tires and setting fires, that's a problem. That's disheartening and it's wrong and it has to stop," County Administrator Ross Angilella said.

While the Camden County Prosecutor's Office is investigating, the Freeholders targeted are blaming members of Local 351 of the Police Benevolent Association which is comprised of correction officers at the jail.

"The actions by the PBA will solidify the efforts of the Camden County Board of Freeholders and the leadership of Camden County towards privatization," Cappelli said.

Faced with a federal lawsuit due to severe overcrowding at the jail, Freeholders contend they're faced with either building a new facility at a cost of a half billion dollars or privatize.

"We don't have a choice. We're going to protect the taxpayers, we're going need to privatize. We want PBA to be a part of that transition, not to work against it," Cappelli said.

The union which represents 353 uniform correction officers at the jail vehemently opposes privatization fearing the loss of their members' jobs.

"We're trying to educate the public with the facts, We believe they're going around with their numbers, their study, and they're not true," President of PBA Local 351 Robert Parker.

To be sure, it is a contentious issue, but the union denies it's played any role in any acts of vandalism.

So far, authorities have no suspects in the acts of vandalism, but the Camden County Prosecutor's office is warning jail personnel that acts of vandalism against public officials are crimes that will be prosecuted and cost their jobs.

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