Preview-Senate Panel To Hear Experts On Gangs Discuss Prison Problems

TRENTON – Senator John A. Girgenti today said his key Senate committee wants to ask gang experts on Thursday what flammable conditions behind state prison walls are igniting explosive confrontations like the violent eruption between inmates and corrections officers at Bayside State Prison on New Year’s Day.

“It’s pretty obvious that something has to be done, both to protect our corrections officers and to restore relative calm throughout the State prison system,” said Senator Girgenti, Chairman of the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Senator Girgenti said the panel has invited State Corrections Commissioner Devon Brown and Attorney General Peter Harvey to outline the State’s assessment of the gang problem in the correctional system.

“The Bayside incident triggered a statewide realization that job-related dangers for officers had risen to an intolerable level,” Senator Girgenti said.

In requesting a Senate hearing on the Bayside disturbance last month, Senator Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Salem, Cumberland and Glouceser, termed the inmate uprising that resulted in more than two dozen injured officers as “a disaster.”

“Before we weigh recommended reforms, we need to hear from the experts exactly what they believe the problems are,” Senator Girgenti said.

Senator Girgenti said he would like to hear whether those who study gang relationships inside and outside the state prison system believe it is beneficial to separate inmates by the gangs they have joined.

“I would like to hear whether separating gangs within the correctional system would create stability or put officers and non-gang members at even greater risk,” Senator Girgenti said.

Troy B. Ferus, President of the New Jersey State Corrections Officers Association also is expected to testify along with officials from the State Police Intelligence Services Section and the State Police Street Gangs Unit.

In addition, Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland, and Wes Daily, President of the East Coast Gang Investigators, are expected to testify before the panel.

The committee is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. in Room 4 on the First Floor of the State House Annex.

The agendas of five other Senate committees meeting Thursday have been distributed to the State House media.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE SENATE CALENDAR FOR FEBRUARY 3, 2005