Freeholders Vote to Return County Jail Oversight to Sheriff

Sheriff-Elect James Gannon will be in charge of Morris County Jail starting January 1

Morris County Correctional Facility

MORRIS COUNTY — The Morris County Board of Freeholders will return day-to-day management of the county jail back to the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, voting unanimously on a resolution to put jail oversight in the hands of newly elected Sheriff James Gannon as of January 1.

Morris County Sheriff-Elect James Gannon

The county governing board’s decision followed a presentation at their Wednesday morning work session in Morristown by Sheriff-Elect Gannon, who detailed reasons why integrating corrections back under the Sheriff’s law enforcement command made logistical sense. The freeholders agreed.

“It makes great sense to have the sheriff run the jail and to return to what had been a long-time partnership of having the Sheriff and Freeholders be co-employers of corrections officers,” said Freeholder Doug Cabana, the board’s liaison on law and public safety issues. “We only took control reluctantly a little more than a year ago because of mismanagement, especially on the fiscal side, that forced our hand,” he added.

Morris County Freeholder Doug Cabana

Gannon, accompanied at the freeholder meeting by Warden Chris Klein and other top county correction officers, said he has been evaluating jail operations thoroughly and plans some substantive changes.

Included are having corrections officers handle inmate pickups from local police departments for transport to the county jail, and having corrections officers take over duties in the inmate holding area at the county courthouse. Sheriff-Elect Gannon also detailed a series of potential inmate initiatives, focusing on opiate addiction, domestic abuse, and GED education and certification, that could begin at the county lockup in 2017.

The civilian County Administration took over management of the Morris County Jail on September 1, 2015, removing current Sheriff Edward Rochford as manager of jail operations. Rochford is retiring on December 31, after serving as Morris County Sheriff for 24 years, leaving an elected position he’s held since 1993. At that time Sheriff Rochford stated “This is an abuse of power by the Freeholders.  They are playing with the taxpayers’ safety for their own political purposes.  They are legally allowed to take over the jail but it makes no fiscal sense to do so and the taxpayers should look to Warren and Ocean Counties where the jail was taken over by their respective Freeholder Boards and then returned to the Sheriff because it was an expense and a liability they did not actually want to bear.” Rochford explains. The Freeholders spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with study after study trying to justify dismantling the Bureau of Law Enforcement and creating a county police but despite their best attempts, the public outcry shut that down. Now they are after the jail without any due diligence but rather, just because they can.”

The freeholders, in making their decision, cited ongoing fiscal differences with the sheriff, including excessive raises negotiated with corrections unions and huge overtime increases at the jail despite a marked reduction in the number of inmates.

They also cited the sheriff’s unwillingness to cooperate with the County Office of Labor Relations, which has historically negotiated all labor contracts for the county, and with a general lack of communications on many issues.

Sheriff Edward Rochford

The freeholders at that time rejected four labor agreements that had been negotiated by Sheriff Rochford, including two with corrections unions. Those agreements subsequently were renegotiated by the county for substantially less money.

Sheriff-Elect Gannon has pledged to work more cooperatively with the freeholder board.

“The Sheriff elect has acknowledged that while having oversight of the Correctional Facility, he will follow all County of Morris Policies and Procedures, negotiate all Labor Agreements with the County Administrator and adhere to the most current economic package as approved by the Freeholder Board,” the freeholders stated in the resolution that passed by a 6-0 vote at a recent meeting.