On Thursday, March 26, 2020, on behalf of ten thousand (10,000) New Jersey State Correctional Police Officers, I sent correspondence to the Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Corrections and the Acting Director for the New Jersey State Juvenile Justice Commission requesting that they petition the Governor for the State of New Jersey to establish, stand up and fund a COVID-19 testing facility that is dedicated to New Jersey State Sworn Correctional Personnel. Despite the fact that the letter explained in explicit detail the need for the facility, I was questioned by a media outlet yesterday if such a facility was truly necessary in light of the lack of tests available to the general public. I provided an explanation to the outlet in more “layman’s” terms and felt compelled to do so again in this article.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has reached inside New Jersey State Correctional Facilities. Putting aside County Jails, in state facilities alone there have been eleven (11) employees that have returned positive test results for the virus. Of the eleven, over half of the positive results were sworn law enforcement officers. To the Department’s credit, they have been strictly adhering to the CDC guidelines in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and eradicate it from the institutions. Based on this fact, any officer that was directly exposed to the positively impacted officer has been ordered into self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days in an effort to stop the virus from spreading. The fourteen (14) day period of self-quarantine requires an officer to absent himself or herself from their workplace for a minimum of fourteen (14) days whether they are inflicted with the virus or not. Thereafter, if they are diagnosed as having contracted coronavirus, their absence will be longer than fourteen (14) days. However, if they are asymptomatic, they will still be required to be absent from work for fourteen (14) days under the current CDC guidelines.
In New Jersey and across America, for various reasons too numerous to be listed here, only individuals that are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 are permitted to be tested. Therefore a Correctional Police Officer that has been exposed to an affected individual may not be tested unless he or she demonstrates CDC recognized symptomology. New Jersey State correctional facilities require numerous Correctional Police Officers to work in very close quarters alongside one another during a work shift in an effort to manage the inmates in their care, custody and control. As a result of these working conditions, for each officer that has tested positive for the virus, on average, twenty (20) other officers have had to be removed from the workplace and ordered to self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days. To put such a scenario in baseball or football terms, one positive result takes approximately twenty (20) players out of the game and unfortunately, “the bench” isn’t deep enough to accommodate losses such as this. Therefore, multiple positive results within an institution at a single or overlapping time will be extremely problematic. Such a situation will cause officers to be overworked which thereby has the potential to cause dangerous security problems. This is a circumstances that no member of society wants to see happen.
So, the question that needs to be asked is: How will the dedicated testing facility help to alleviate this potentially debilitating problem? The answer is simple—If we can test an asymptomatic officer soon after exposure and a negative result is returned, the officer can be returned to work thereby alleviating the potentially critical manpower shortage. If the manpower issue is solved, the potential security problem is thereby alleviated. Please understand that Correctional Police Officers are not looking for special treatment during this worldwide pandemic. All that they want to do is to “get back into the game” sooner rather than later to ensure the safety and security of our State’s Citizens.