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Senator Michael Testa

Senator Michael Testa

Testa Faults Derella for Dangerous Situation at Cumberland County Jail

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Federal Investigators Troubled by Constitutional Violations that Put Lives at Risk

The Cumberland County Jail, under the leadership of Democrat county commission director Joe Derella, has failed to take necessary precautions to prevent inmate suicides and provide adequate mental health care, a federal civil rights investigation has found.

Sen. Michael Testa blamed the Cumberland County director for continuing problems at the jail after news that federal investigators had identified unconstitutional treatment of inmates. (Flickr)

The development is just the latest black eye for the elected official responsible for the facility, which has been plagued by recent controversies surrounding a large COVID outbreak at the jail, and the refusal to cooperate with federal immigration laws.

“We have seen one embarrassment after another with the county jail, and the series of failures is indicative of systemic inaptitude of the director and the Democrat-led board,” said Senator Michael Testa (R-1). “Under Commissioner Director Derella’s control, the jail has seen repeated deficiencies that are disappointing, irresponsible, and unconstitutional.”

An announcement by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey stated the departments conclusion that the facility violated both the 8th and 14th amendments by failing to provide adequate mental health screening and treatment to inmates at risk of suicide or self-harm, and failing to provide medication-assisted treatment, where clinically indicated, to prisoners experiencing opiate withdrawal.

“Every issue that has arisen at the jail endangers the health and lives of local residents,” Testa noted. “The director is in over his head, that’s clear. His incompetence has created a dangerous scenario that has now grabbed the attention of the feds.

“It has become a common theme. The prisoners and guards were not kept safe from COVID, local residents have not been protected, and now this. It is yet another example of disregard for human life. Constitutionally mandated safeguards to protect the lives of prisoners have been neglected. This is indefensible,” Testa said.

Last month, amid reports of a COVID outbreak at the jail that sickened more than 50 prisoners and almost two dozen guards, Derella came under fire for criticizing the comments of another commissioner, also a Democrat, who said: “The Cumberland County Jail has a four-alarm public health emergency within the confines of its four walls.”

Derella also accused Testa of “political grandstanding,” after the Senator voiced concerns that the outbreak, if not contained quickly, could spread to the surrounding communities and said “that is something we all want to prevent.”

In the fall of 2019, the jail came under fire for the release of an immigrant from Mexico who was charged with raping an underage local girl. The suspect had a lengthy arrest record and was released in spite of requests to hold him until federal agents could take him into custody.

The release was part of an “escalating legal battle between Trenton and Washington over efforts to block federal enforcement of immigration laws in New Jersey,” according to a report in The Daily Journal.

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