As reported by, charging Essex County has for years placed profits over public safety at Delaney Hall halfway house, two law enforcement unions have filed a lawsuit alleging the facility violates state law by placing county inmates in the care of a private complaint.

The 19-page suit calls on the county to sever its ties with the nonprofit Education and Health Centers of America, which has a contract to run Delaney Hall, through its for-profit partner, Community Education Centers. The county pays $20 million a year to run Delaney Hall, a 1,200-bed institution in Newark for nonviolent offenders that is considered a jail alternative.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Superior Court in Newark by the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and Essex County Corrections Officers Union Local 382. It follows a series of articles in the New York Times in June that detailed escapes, drug use, lax security, and violence at institutions in the state, including Delaney Hall. In one case, Newark barber Derek West Harris was robbed and strangled on May 18, 2009, by three fellow Delaney Hall inmates who all had violent criminal pasts. Harris, 51, had been sent to Delaney Hall two days earlier for failing to pay traffic fines.

Essentially, the lawsuit claims there is no statutory authority in New Jersey that allows counties to divert inmates from jails to private facilities. Whenever inmates are housed outside the usual confines of a correctional center, the suit says, it must be done in partnership with nonprofit corporations. The lawsuit “questions the validity of EHCA as a non-profit entity.”

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, State PBA President Anthony Wieners said his group has complained for years about Essex County’s partnership with Education and Health Centers, which he claims trades “inmates for financial incentives.” Wieners alleges Essex sends its inmates to Delaney Hall, a cheaper, less secure facility, and then uses its more secure facility to house federal prisoners, from which it earns additional revenue. “The lives that have been lost as a result of putting profit over safety cannot be brought back, but this system must be stopped,” he said.

Joe Amato, president of the corrections officers union, has long accused the county and Community Education Centers of mismanagement at Delaney Hall. While corrections officers are not assigned to Delaney Hall, Amato said they do provide support services. “It’s supposed to be a facility that’s a last stop before re-entering the street,” he said.  Instead, the county is holding “pre-adjudicated inmates with violent backgrounds. They’ve turned it into a holding pen, a county jail annex.”