The Morris County Sheriff’s Office on March 14 hosted a Leadership Morris class of business and non-profit professionals, shattering some preconceptions of how a jail can look and run with a tour of the Morris County Correctional Facility.
“I was surprised. It’s a state-of-the-art facility and definitely money well-spent,” said Leadership Morris student Daniel Umana, a trustee of the non-profit Family Promise of Morris County which runs an emergency shelter and programs to end homelessness.
“I didn’t think I’d see a recreation pod, or that much medical staff, or all the different programs. I think they’re doing a great job setting up former inmates for the future so they don’t commit crimes again,” Umana said.
Leadership Morris, a community education program of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, holds 10-month classes for business professionals and executives of non-profit agencies to teach them about the challenges, institutions and charitable opportunities in the county.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon addressed the class of 28 Leadership Morris students during a lunch at the correctional facility that was followed by a tour of the 19-year-old facility in Morris Township led by Bureau of Corrections Sgt. Andrew Bileci, Corporal Rodney Furby and Corrections Officer Brian Rzucidlo.
“This facility is second to none. I would argue it’s the best facility in the state and arguably the best facility in the country,” Sheriff Gannon told the class.
He said the state Department of Corrections gave the correctional facility, built to house 524 inmates in eight housing pods, a score of 100 in its last two inspections and the American Correctional Association also gave the facility scores of 100 on both mandatory and non-mandatory standards.
Morris County now is negotiating with Sussex County to accept Sussex inmates under an arrangement that will financially benefit Morris County, Sheriff Gannon said.
The Morris County Correctional Facility, he said, is uniquely poised to accept the inmates because the facility is modern, has the cell space, and offers an array of programs to address substance abuse, anger management, educational and medical needs that assist inmates in leading law-abiding lives upon discharge.
“We’re looking to provide appropriate services so they can leave here better than they were when they came in,” Sheriff Gannon said.
The sheriff’s signature program, the Hope One mobile substance abuse resource and recovery vehicle, was launched on April 3, 2017, and led to the creation of a Hope Wing at the correctional facility where inmates trying to recover from addiction receive counseling, guidance on repairing relationships, anger management and Vivitrol, the medication that helps prevent alcohol and drug relapses. As of March 14, 16 inmates were assigned to the Hope Wing and nearly 100 individuals have been in the wing since June 2017, he said.
“If we don’t change the behavior or give them opportunities in some way, we can’t expect them to change. As the sheriff, I have a lot of responsibilities but one of them is to curb recidivism somehow. If we don’t work on their issues, then we can’t expect them not to come in through your bedroom window,” Sheriff Gannon said.
In his tour of the correctional facility, Sgt. Bileci led the group into a housing pod undergoing renovations, the enormous kitchen where inmates are responsible for preparing meals, the intake unit, and laundry.
Sgt. Bileci credited the direct supervision model – under which one corrections officer supervises a pod housing up to 64 inmates – and its numerous programs for helping to maintain peace at the facility because they keep inmates mentally and socially occupied.
Corrections officers, he said, speak firmly and decently to inmates and assaults on corrections officers are never tolerated.
“Our greatest weapon is the way we talk to inmates,” Sgt. Bileci said. “If you treat someone like a human being, they’ll act like a human being. If you treat someone like an animal, they’ll act like an animal.”
The Leadership Morris class also got a first-hand look at the Hope One vehicle that stopped outside the correctional facility after a five-hour stop in Boonton. Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Erica Valvano was on-board. Hope One’s partners include Family Promise of Morris County, Morris County CARES, which provides certified peer recovery specialists and Narcan training, and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris counties.
Thursday’s Leadership Morris class, called “Criminal Justice Day,” included a morning session at the Morris County courthouse where students heard a presentation on the opioid epidemic in Morris County from Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brad Seabury before spending the afternoon at the correctional facility.