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1/15/2021 - Cumberland County Jail Implementing Policies to Address Inmate Mental Illness and Addiction

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, NEW JERSEY (January 14, 2021) In response to a January 14, 2021 press release from the US Attorney’s Office regarding the prevention of suicide and the treatment of mental illness at the Cumberland County Jail, Joseph Derella, Director of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, indicates that corrective action addressing these concerns is being implemented. Director Derella, stated, “We have been working with the Justice Department since 2017 after the jail experienced several inmate suicides.” Derella continued, “Since that time we have substantially increased the professional resources devoted to the identification and treatment of mental illness and addiction.” Derella added, “While any suicide is a tragedy too many, the number of inmate suicides since 2018 has been reduced to one.”

“The Cumberland County Department of Corrections recognizes that many detainees suffer from mental illness or addiction with a great percentage experiencing both”, explained Derella. “Unfortunately, as facilities such as the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital have reduced their inpatient population and opioid and heroin addictions have exploded, county jails have been forced to become the largest provider of mental health and addiction recovery services in many communities”, stated Derella. “Often, mental illness or addiction play a significant role in the events that lead to detention in the first place”, he continued.

“Since 2018, jail administration has revised its policies and procedures to improve identification on intake of detainees who are suffering from mental illness or addiction, putting them at greater risk of suicide”, said Derella. “Once detainees are identified at risk, enhanced psychiatric and recovery services are immediately employed to help the detainee”, added Derella.

Director Derella indicates that the jail’s receipt of grant funding for its Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) initiative has significantly improved the County Jail’s ability to support detainees suffering from addiction. Derella explained, “This comprehensive program includes drug screening and the use of medication therapy, prescribed and administered by an independent medical services provider, to not only treat addiction but also address the pain that often leads to addiction of narcotics, while reducing the risk of addiction relapse.” Derella added, “Upon release, the jail offers a short time supply of medication and prepaid cell phones to former detainees to facilitate their connection to appropriate medical and counseling support.”

“In the four years since we began working with the Justice Department to address the twin challenges of mental illness and addiction, Warden Richard Smith made tremendous progress implementing new policies and procedures that have resulted in a comprehensive improvement in the identification and treatment of these pervasive illnesses”, stated Derella. “Our aging and obsolete jail has been part of the difficulty in making the changes necessary and one of the drivers of our decision to close the jail and house Cumberland County’s detainees in Atlantic County’s modern facility”, added Derella. “We appreciate the time the Justice Department spent with us and we will continue to work to implement their recommendations”, concluded Director Derella.


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