BY TOM HESTER SR.
The state Department of Corrections will move 150 sex offenders from its Special Treatment prison in Kearny to a high-security unit at East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge by mid-May, officials announced Friday.
The shift is part of a shake up in the imprisonment and handling of inmates within the state prison system that follows recommendations made by Gov. Chris Christie's corrections transition team.
The changes also call for the 240-bed gang unit at Northern State Prison in Newark, used to house potentially dangerous convicted gang members, to be dismantled and the inmates reassigned to appropriate wings or prisons.
Corrections officials during the Corzine administration considered the influence of gang members in the prison system as a serious problem.
The 48-bed Special Sentencing Unit at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, which once housed condemned prisoners before the death penalty was eliminated, will be converted for general inmate housing.
The sex-offender shift from Kearny to East Jersey was sparked by a state court ruling sought by Hudson County that the Special Treatment prison had to be vacated. The sexually violent inmates will be held in a stand-alone, secured unit that currently contains single rooms on the grounds of East Jersey.
Corrections officials expect the transfer will also save $2.3 million, money the DOC paid annually to Hudson to lease the Kearny prison.
The DOC already houses about 250 sex offenders at East Jersey. The state Department of Human Services provides them therapy.
Corrections Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan said, "As per the recommendations of the transition report, and given the court order to vacate the Kearny Unit, these operational efficiencies will translate into real dollar savings without compromising public safety. I have great confidence in the ability of our staff to continue to keep our facilities — and, by extension, the adjoining neighborhoods — safe and secure."