Justice Department complaint hits Cumberland County Jail conditions

Cumberland County Jail

In a move to safeguard the constitutional rights of incarcerated individuals, the Justice Department has lodged a complaint against Cumberland County, New Jersey.

The complaint alleges that the conditions at the Cumberland County Jail violate the Constitution and federal officials proposed a consent decree with the Cumberland County Department of Corrections.

The proposed consent decree primarily addresses two major concerns raised by the Justice Department.

Firstly, it asserts that the jail has failed to provide adequate mental health care to incarcerated individuals who are at risk of self-harm and suicide. Secondly, it highlights the jail’s failure to provide medication-assisted treatment for incarcerated individuals experiencing unmedicated opiate withdrawal, when clinically indicated.

The proposed consent decree, if accepted, will necessitate the provision of adequate mental health care and medication-assisted treatment under these circumstances.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland emphasized the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all individuals in the country.

Garland said, “Today’s proposed consent decree is a significant step toward improving the care of individuals incarcerated in Cumberland County who are struggling with serious mental health disorders and toward protecting the civil rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division lauded the consent decree as a milestone in combating discrimination against those with opioid use disorder and upholding the civil rights of individuals in jails and prisons.

Clarke commended Cumberland County for its collaborative efforts in implementing the reforms outlined in the decree, which aim to safeguard the safety and constitutional rights of incarcerated people at Cumberland County Jail.

U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Philip R. Sellinger mentioned the significance of medications in combating the opioid epidemic, stating that they are vital tools that save lives.

Sellinger emphasized that by providing medication-assisted treatment to incarcerated individuals undergoing opiate withdrawal, correctional facilities can take significant strides in both addressing the opioid crisis and protecting the constitutional rights of their populations.

The investigation into the Cumberland County Jail was initiated in June 2018 following the suicides of six incarcerated individuals who were denied medication-assisted treatment. Under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey conducted the investigation.

The act empowers the Justice Department to address patterns or practices that violate the constitutional rights of individuals confined to government-run correctional facilities at the state or local level.

In January 2021, the Department found reasonable cause to believe that Cumberland County’s failure to provide medication-assisted treatment and adequate mental health and suicide prevention measures violated the rights of incarcerated individuals. The Department also identified necessary measures to rectify these unlawful conditions.

Individuals with pertinent information regarding compliance with the agreement are encouraged to contact the Department via phone at 833-223-1547 or by email at Cumberlandcounty.jail@usdoj.gov.

For more information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, visit their website at https://www.justice.gov/crt/special-litigation-section. Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey’s Civil Rights Division can be found at: https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement.

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