An aggressive crackdown on crime in Newark and nearby towns has created a housing crisis at the Essex County jail, forcing officials to spend millions more on inmate care and to find ways to move cases through the courts faster, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. Over two months, the inmate population at the jail has surged 20 percent as authorities arrest more people, raise bails, and drive harder plea bargains. On an average day, between 20 and 70 prisoners bide their time in the jail’s intake bullpens, while another 50 spend the night on portable beds in the gymnasium. The wait for a cell has stretched from hours to up to two days.
Law enforcement authorities say they have no plans to let up, and the county’s top judge has warned county officials to prepare for a long-term population surge. “There is a cost to cracking down on crime and I assume it’s a cost that government is willing to pay to get results,” said Superior Court Assignment Judge Patricia Costello. “It’s only going to get more crowded.” Newark Mayor Cory Booker, elected this year on an anti-crime platform, has promised to cut crime rates immediately by putting more cops on the street. Since he took office in July, arrests have risen steeply, with the city locking up 1,800 more people this summer than last. During that time, he says, overall crime has dropped. Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow, who has been trying to reform a system notorious for failing to keep criminals behind bars, has also taken a more aggressive approach toward serious offenders and those with lengthy rap sheets. Last Thursday, 1,830 inmates were in jail waiting for trial or grand jury, an increase of more than 100 percent from January 2005.