Ending solitary confinement, the problem that doesn’t “exist” in New Jersey

Nafeesah Goldsmith

Nafeesah Goldsmith is a community organizer with the nonprofit organization Jersey City Together. She graduated Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree and is working towards a Master’s in Criminal Justice at Monmouth University. She has been working to curtail the practice of solitary confinement in New Jersey, as she has had first hand experience of its abuse. For nearly 13 years, Nafeesah Goldsmith was incarcerated for at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility and was forced to spend nearly 60 days in solitary confinement—in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, a male inmate facility since Edna Mahan did not have its own isolation ward (now, it does).

There Goldsmith spent two months of isolation, “with the exception of 45 minutes of recreation time, most days, in the prison yard. She said she sometimes went without showering, depending on the mood of the guards. To pass the time she spoke with isolated prisoners through the vents and the toilet, sometimes playing a makeshift version of hangman.” 

For inmates in segregation, the most traumatizing aspect is the dehumanizing treatment they face while in solitary confinement. Goldsmith is still reminded of the anguished cries from the other solitary cells: “You hear nothing but screams and it’s loud and there’s banging. You have people having mental episodes and people having medical emergencies. You have people with seizures and you have people attempting suicide.” That is only some of the horror that people suffer in solitary, or as New Jersey calls it, administrative segregation.

Seizing on the nomenclature of the term for solitary confinement, in 2016 former Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill to restrict the practice to 15 or 20 consecutive days over a two-month period. The bill would have also sought to exempt mentally ill or pregnant inmates and require daily medical evaluations for those in isolation. His excuse? The piece of legislation, “seeks to resolve a problem that does not exist in New Jersey.”

But the problem very much does exist in the Garden State. Of the roughly 80,000 inmates in the United States currently in isolation, New Jersey holds 1,500. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the amount of time it places people in isolation. As far back as 2011 the United Nations claimed such punishment amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Today, however, there is a turn of opinion in the Garden State, and another bill is back on the table. A-314/S-3261 would have similar exemptions as the bill Christie vetoed, and expand it to include people over 21 and young and 65 and older, and people with developmental disabilities and serious mental conditions. Survivors are telling their stories and forcing others who would not have interacted with the criminal justice system to examine the uses and abuses of solitary confinement. It is forcing the citizens of New Jersey to recognize that we are not treating other people with respect and dignity the moment that they are labeled “prisoner.” 

Nafeesah Goldsmith’s bravery and willingness to come forward with her story, along with those of others, is helping to make significant and positive changes in New Jersey as regards our treatment of incarcerated human beings. She is willing to tell her story at schools, at coalition events, and to anyone who will listen. It’s time we started to listen. 

(Photo Credit: Asbury Park Press / Doug Ford)

What goes on in New Jersey’s county jails? Overcrowding. Suicide. Death.

Hudson County jail

In 2018, New Jersey was embroiled in a federal investigation into rampant sexual abusein the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women. That investigation culminated in several criminal investigations, indictments of correctional officers and a committee hearing that hopefully will bring some positive changes to the state prison – if positive changesand prisoncan be put together in the same sentence. But what is going on in New Jersey’s county jails may be even more insidious and too often falls under the radar. Twenty of the state’s 21 counties have jails, and they operate with little oversight from the state DOC.

According to the latest figures available from the DOJ, the Garden State jails have the highest per-capita death rate among the 30 states with the largest jail populations. The biggest driver of rising death rates was suicides committed by people suffering from untreated drug addictions and mental illnesses.

The rate of suicides in New Jersey county jails has risen an average of 55% each year between 2012 and 2016. With the exception of Hudson County, these deaths have garnered very little government attention, and action. Hudson County increased spending on mental health and stepped up screenings as part of the intake process for prisoners. Even so, in Hudson County, of 17 recorded deaths at the jail since 2013, officials could only find six incident reports. Between June 2017 and March 2018 alone, six inmates died in the Hudson County jail.  

Cynthia Acosta committed suicide at the Hudson County jail. Acosta had been receiving help for drug abuse and admitted herself to an inpatient mental health program at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Medication was helping to stabilize her, according to her brother, David Acosta. 

Ready to find her own place and about to file for housing assistance, Cynthia Acosta needed a copy of her identification record. She drove to a government office in Hoboken despite having a suspended driver’s license and was arrested by North Bergen police officers for past traffic violations. Her medicine was left in the car after her arrest. Three days later she was dead. 

Cynthia’s death was preventable. Having been booked in the Hudson facility, she was housed in the combined medical and mental health unit, “a small, windowless, triangle-shaped room bordered by three cells, a shower and a nurses’ station.” The Director of the jail has acknowledged that the nurses didn’t have enough training and resources to deal with mental health issues. Neverthelss, he claimed defended that inmates were properly monitored … despite the suicide rate.

The issues do not stop at North Jersey. In Cumberland County, a man from Vineland became the seventh inmate to die from suicide at the county jail since 2015. The Atlantic County Jail has had six suicides in the past three years. Housing inmates and then completely disregarding their need for mental heath has become normalized across New Jersey. Multiple lawsuits against county jails have become the new norm, with family members demanding answers. 

Meanwhile, county contracts with ICE have led to massive overcrowding in county jails. Bergen County jails nearly tripled its capacity for federal detainees. Hudson county is at 134% of its capacity. The three biggest county governments – Bergen, Hudson, and Essex – are now earning a total of $6 milliona month to hold immigrants in their county jails. Bergen County’s contract with ICE contributes to 7.4% of Bergen’s “miscellaneous” non-tax revenues. Holding undocumented immigrants is big business.

Hidden in plain sight, New Jersey’s county jails contribute to such notorious abuses and neglect that they should be front and center of media headlines. But being quiet and closing our eyes is very good for business.

Cynthia Acosta and brother David Acosta

(Photo Credit 1: Reena Rose Sibayan / Jersey Jour/ NJ.com) (Photo Credit 2: David Acosta / NJ.com)

New Jersey’s Police Have an Excessive Force Problem

Police have the right to punch you if you’re resisting arrest. They have the right to tackle you if they think you might flee. And they have the right to shoot you if they fear for their lives. The single greatest authority granted a police officer is the right to harm another person, and most use it sparingly to protect themselves and the public. But who’s watching the ones who abuse their power?”

NJ Advance Media for NJ.com recently published a 16-month investigation, which found that the tracking for New Jersey’s police use of excessive force is broken, with no statewide collection, little oversight by state officials and no standard practices in the department. NJ.com compiled nearly 73,000 instances of use-of-force, covering municipal police departments and State Police from 2012 through 2016, filing 506 public records requests to highlight the extraordinary use of excessive force on New Jerseyans by the state’s law enforcement. 

The report highlight a disturbing trend: around ten percent of officers account for 38 percent of all uses of force, with a total of 296 officers using force more than five times the state average. Between 2012 and 2016 9,302 people were injured by police; 4,210 of those were serious enough cases that required hospital care. At least 156 officers put at least one person in the hospital in each of the five years under review. 

In New Jersey, populations of color fare far worse in than whites. People of color are three times more likely to face police force. For example, in Lakewood, a Black person 21 times more likely to face police force than whites. Because of inconsistent and lackluster reporting, New Jersey fails to monitor trends to flag officers who use disproportionately excessive amounts of force. Though the state recently implemented an early warning system to identify potential problem officers, they did not mandate tracking use-of-force trends as a criterion for tracking. 

From the local to the state level, police officers are not held accountable when their excessive use of force puts people in harm’s way and are able to continue working without fear of losing their jobs. The numbers of people hurt in the process of being put in contact with police is staggering. One officer in Camden reported injuring 27 people in the four-year span alone

The report highlights the state’s complete relinquishment of responsibility for its citizens. As police officers are able to use deadly force on Black bodies, they get away punishment free because of a lack of consistent and modern reporting on use of force. 

The groundbreaking report also has its enemies in the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, or PBA, whose president, Patrick Colligan, issued a two-page response, criticizing, “The state of the journalism industry.” His criticism did not address the substantial numbers of excessive force New Jersey police have used and continued to use on marginalized communities. Police must be held accountable, both for the racist discrimination and violence perpetrated on Black people and Black communities and for the extraordinary number of citizens they have injured or sent to the hospital over the small span of four to five years. Change must come to address the use of excessive force in the state, and accountability needs to be addressed in the 468 local police departments as in the state police. That means standing up to a large group of PBA and supporters when tackling the issue in the future. Until then, more people will get hurt and marginalized communities will be the worst hit. (Click here to see the town and county breakdown of police use of force in the state of the New Jersey.)

(Infographic credit: NJ.com)

New Jersey ended its contract with ICE: A week later the retaliation began

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announces new directive concerning collaboration with ICE

On Thursday, November 29, NJ State Attorney General Gurbir Grewalannounced the implementation of new guidelines in New Jersey’s cooperation with ICE. His new directives curtailed local police’s ability to inquire about someone’s immigration status and turn undocumented immigrants over to immigration officials for deportation. The AG said the policy shift is to ameliorate relations between police officials and the immigrant communities where they serve: “No law-abiding resident of this great state should live in fear that a routine traffic stop by local police will result in his or her deportation from this country.”

Yes, it is that easy for states and local municipalities and cities to end their cooperation with ICE. 

Under the new rules, New Jersey police cannot stop or detain anyone based on their immigration status, nor can they ask the immigration status of anyone unless it is part of an ongoing investigation into a serious criminal offense. Further, police cannot participate in ICE raids, and ICE cannot utilize state or local resources. 

The new policy has been the keystone of the Murphy administration, which has been working on revamping police guidelines regarding undocumented immigrants since shortly after he was elected, and said he would make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” during his campaign.

True to its authoritarian nature, a week later, in response to the new directives, ICE conducted “at-large” arrests. In one of the largest raids in the history of New Jersey, officials on Friday announced the arrest of 105 peopleover a five-day period. They began literally right after the Attorney General released the new directive.  

Led by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the operationresulted in arrests across the state, including 24 in Hudson County, 10 in Middlesex County, 14 in Monmouth County, four in Bergen County, 11 in Passaic County and 6 in Essex County. Those arrested last week were citizens of Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Trinidad and Venezuela. 

According to Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, a community organizer for Movimiento Cosecha, which lobbies for expanded rights for undocumented immigrants in the state, including access to driver’s licenses, the new arrests had to be connected to the directive, and called ICE a rogue agency: “It is a shame that while the new AG is trying to create trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement, the ICE director John Tsoukaris is trying to destroy that trust and criminalize immigrants across the state.”

Those arrested were people and citizens of the state of New Jersey, a state that, like New York, has a history of being a melting pot of immigrants, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing economic depression, state-sanctioned violence, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. Almost every resident shares their immigrant story of “Coming to America” with pride and reverence for their family members who made the journey. Those undocumented in the state are no exceptions.  

As a community, now, we must decide whether or not we are going to honor the memories of those who are coming as the descendants of immigrants ourselves, or as prejudiced individuals who have forgotten our collective history of migration. We must also  come to terms with the hypocrisy of the Trump administrationand ICE deportation machine, who would arrest undocumented immigrants in this state but leave those who benefit the Trump business alone to have their labor exploited. 

(Photo Credit: NorthJersey.com) (Video Credit: YouTube)

If men get to run without a shirt on, women should be able to too

In warm weather, running can be hard with extra layers on. As a runner, I know. From May to September, when the weather hits 60-90 degrees every day, I’m not running with a sports bra, shirts and shorts on; I’m removing as many layers as I can so I don’t overheat and harm myself. That means I’m running with just a sports bra and shorts on. My comfort and my health override any preconceived ideas of what women should be wearing while they workout. The same can be said of all women when they’re exercising.

For this reason, Rowan University is wrong to police women track athletes who were exercising while the football team was in practice, and were called out for removing their shirts after a particularly difficult practice. After an afternoon workout of mile repeats in 60-degree weather, the athletes finished their workout in their sports bras, while some male runners ran without shirts on. Can you guess who was told they were distracting the football players? The women.

“I was holding a 5:45 or 5:50 during mile repeats. We were dead and sweaty,” teammate and senior Hannah Vendetta says. Team members recalled that one of the football coaches approached the women’s cross-country coach and told them that the runners were distracting the football players. A few days later, the team learned during an athletics department meeting that “they all had to wear shirts during practice. Also, the cross-country teams were no longer allowed to use the track while the football team practiced. Instead, if they wanted to run in the afternoon, they would need to make do with the Glassboro High School track across the street. Or they could change their practice time.”

The University administration has claimed that there has always been a policy wherein only one sports team at a time has use of the facilities, but students and alumni have disputed the claim that the policy has ever been enforced. In a response to the administration’s explanations, alumna Grace Kaler tweeted, “From the Year 2010-2014, this policy was never enforced. We had always shared the facility. As a former captain, and student-athlete, I am so disappointed to see the sports bra rule still in play, but now to cover it up with this, is extremely disheartening.”

Rowan student Gina Capone heard of the incident from her former teammates and, enraged, posted an article on Odyssey. Her piece took the Athletics Department to task, citing unfair treatment of the cross-country team, policing women’s bodies, and perpetuating a “boys will be boys” culture on campus. The next morning, the post had gone viral, throwing Rowan into the spotlight on the eve of hosting the NCAA Division III regional cross-country championships. The university can profit off of women athletes, while also policing their bodies and what they get to wear when it gets too hot to train?

There is a verbal policy in place – the “shirts required rule” – that supposedly applies to male and female across all sports. According to VP of University Relations Joe Cardona, “The verbal policy was adopted to create standards for all student athletes. We want to keep standards above a normal rec or intramural team. You’re playing a NCAA sport.” But only the women were policed by the “verbal policy”; the men without their shirts on were completely disregarded in the call out.

Thanks to the outrage from Capone’s article, the university has created a new written policy, reversing its stance. “There will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel. By clarifying our support for women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels,” says University President Ali A. Houshmand.

But the underlying issue of policing of women’s bodies remains. A runner is not running without a shirt to attract men nor to distract football players. They are running because it is hot outside, and unnecessary clothing is going to be discarded to maintain an athlete’s comfort level. If you’re so worried about the football players or men getting distracted, set punitive measures for those players. I’m willing to bet grueling wind sprints or any other exercise will teach a player not to ogle another athlete.

Stop policing women’s bodies. They aren’t there for your entertainment. Learn to do better.

 

(Photo Credit: Outside)

In New Jersey, the Monroe School District is Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

Whitehall Elemenary School seclusion room

In New Jersey, Monroe Townships School Districts are using solitary confinement, hidden as “timeout rooms” or “calm-down spaces” to punish children in their school districts. A child who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum came home from Whitehall Elementary School, recounted to his mother and father that he had, “been put in a room for time out.” When asked to describe the room, he called it a little room, almost like a jail. The truth of it was even worse. When parents visited the school, they were given firsthand views of the time out room, and the description of a jail was generous. “This is solitary confinement,” the father, Scott Reiss said of the padded room. “This is unacceptable.”

The seclusion room is a space sectioned off in a corner of a special needs classroom, with padded walls and floors that are usually found in a gym. The room, as explained by Superintendent Richard Perry, “is utilized in conjunction with special education related services and interventions, involving behavioral disabilities in which students may become violent toward other students and staff and/or causing harm to themselves. Also, other students, who are classified, utilize this space as a means of safety when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.”

But the seclusion room looks more like solitary confinement than a room where disabled students can “calm down.” It doesn’t seem like any student can potentially calm themselves after outbursts in such a small, confined space. Instead, it pushes disabled children in a space where they can neither be seen nor heard. While the superintendent claimed that every parent is informed of the room and a report is filed when a child is put in the room, after Reiss went public with the photos, other parents voiced their concerns because they also didn’t know the room existed.

Instead of padded walls, an inviting space could be infinitely more successful in calming a student. Stephanie Reiss, the child’s mother suggested an area with partial walls, beanbag chairs and child-friendly accommodations: “All I want is a better, acceptable space for the kids to calm down. That’s all I want.”

The use of physical restraint and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities is permitted by a state law enacted by Christie in January before he left office. The measure does not specify what a seclusion space should look like. However, it does require prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician, unless the space is needed in an emergency to keep the student or others physically safe. The state law does not apply to the use of “timeout” which it describes as “the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

Though the bill had wide bipartisan support, it raises questions. Lacking specific guidelines on seclusion or time-out rooms, instances like the padded solitary room in Whitehall can be considered an acceptable form of removing an unruly student.

Even though Superintendent Perry has stated that the room is not used as a punishment, the padded walls and mats look far more punitive than relocating a student to have them calm down. If grown adults are affected negatively from such solitary confinement, why do we subject young children to the same? “This is unacceptable.”

Inside the seclusion room

New Jersey: End your contracts with ICE now!

New Jersey’s counties are making money with their contracts with ICE. That needs to end. Immigration detainees are held at county jails in Essex, Bergen and Hudson Counties. A private detention facility in Elizabeth also holds immigration detainees. In Hudson County, the two decades old contract for housing immigration detainees at the Hudson County jail in Kearny has a potential 2020 end date.

More than 90 percent of the Hudson detainees used to live in New York, and are being housed in the Kearney while their cases are being argued. Hudson County freeholders (a board of elected representatives for the counties in the state of New Jersey, which is unique to the state) voted 6-3 to put a 2020 end date on the contract, requiring freeholder approval if the county wants to extend it further.

Some have argued that the end of the contract would force the relocation of the undocumented to other facilities, at ICE’s discretion. For the 650 immigrant detainees at the jail, that would mean losing access to immigration advocates. According to Jersey City’s immigrant attorney Eugene Squeo, “If I had no contact with any of the detainees, my position would be clear: Close the facility down. The problem is I’ve come to realize these immigrants have legal services provided by New York, and those attorneys have a success ratio of about 50 percent. For detainees who do not have representation, that drops to about 5 percent.”

Other advocacy groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, have long favored ending the contract to house detainees in Hudson County. The criticism that has been heaped upon those who are hesitant to end such contracts has been – surpise — money.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who voted against the resolution because he wanted more changes than the potential end date, noted, “Whatever anyone says about not closing the facility, their first motivation is the money. I’m not opposed to keeping this facility open until 2020, but you have to take the profit out. You’ve got to reprogram those dollars to pay for better benefits for the detainees.”

Exactly how much money do these counties make by housing detainees? On July 11th, Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholder voted 5 to 2 to approve a new 10-year contract giving ICE the authority to continue detaining 800 immigrants in Kearny, New Jersey. The new contract would raise the rate that ICE pays the county from $77 inmate per day to $120 per day. If all 800 beds are kept full, the county stands to make $35 million per year.

The County Freeholders are well aware of the abysmal conditions inside Hudson County Correctional Facility where ICE pays for the space. In the past year alone, four people detained their committed suicide. Numerous reports document the inhumane conditions, including food with maggots, dirty drinking water and insufficient medical care.

Neighboring Bergen and Essex Counties also take in millions of dollars each year from housing immigrant detainees. Between 2015 and 2018, the three counties raked in over $150 million. Since Trump took office, the annual take has increased by 46%. New Jersey, end your contracts with ICE NOW!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Socialist Worker) (Photo Credit 2: Monsy Alvarado / NorthJersey.com)

Southern New Jersey races: Don’t co-opt white supremacist and sexist slogans for your campaign this election cycle

Andy Kim, one of us

New Jersey was one of several key races in the election this year. As a South Jersey native who lives in districts that tout all spectrums of Republicans – from Trumpsters who worship the ground he walks to moderates who don’t “always” agree with his positions, I had some advice:  Stop co-opting his white supremacist slogans and jargon.

In the 4thDistrict, Representative Tom MacArthur was in a hotly contested election battle with Democratic candidate Andy Kim; Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants and a former national security aide to President Barack Obama, had to actively prove he is part of the South Jersey club, in the face of not so covert racism that hint that he isn’t “part of the club” from the New Jersey Republican Party who described him as “Real Fishy’ – the text printed in a typeface called Chop Suey-next to a photo of dead fish on ice.” While MacArthur dismissed the ads as race-baiting, Republican super pac ads warned voters that Kim is “not one of us.”

From a state that boasts immigrant cultures, promotes Liberty State Park and Ellis Island as proudly located in New Jersey (yes, it is), Kim is as much “us” as Hoboken native, Frank Sinatra.

In NJ’s 11thdistrict, Republican Candidate Jay Webber fell behind his opponent, Navy Veteran and Federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill who hoped to win Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat after his retirement this year. In desperate form, Webber attacked Sherrill as “the dark, fire-breathing radical in this race.” Webber conveniently neglected his own open support for Trump and his legislation, even as the president’s tax bill is set to actively harm New Jersey residents because it curtailed their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Meanwhile, Rep. Leonard Lance fiercely defended his seat in the 11thdistrict, against Democratic candidateTom Malinowski, who raised Lance’s—and really, most NJ Republicans can be applied to this—relationship with the Very Unpopular President.

A commonality to the Southern New Jersey races that many Republican candidates need to be wary of is the massive unpopularity of the president to New Jersey voters. Co-opting Trump’s sexist, homophobic, and overtly racist dogma isn’t going to be your ticket to winning this year.

Here’s an example. As I was determined to vote early in my district — New Jersey’s 4thDistrict, where Republican incumbent Chris Smith defended his seat against Democratic Candidate Josh Welles — I had the misfortune of reading my unopposed Mayoral candidate Kenneth Palmer, and two city councilman’s, campaign slogan: Manchester First.

The campaign slogan harkens back to the “America First” political slogan, used by isolationists in pushing anti-Semitic programs in the 20thcentury, with Trump himself adopting the phrase. Aviator Charles Lindbergh most famously promoted “America First” policy, and David Duke, former Klan Leader, happily endorsed Trump’s use of the phrase.

I hope that the mayoral candidate did not take the meaning of his campaign slogan from the Trump administration; given the politics of the small township I wouldn’t be surprised. I have had to cross many a stop sign with Info Wars and Hillary for Prison 2016 bumper stickers forManchester First to be a coincidence. Given that New Jersey ranks third for most anti-Semitic incidents, a slogan promoting just the kind of anti-Semitism that has taken hold of the state would be exactly what a largely Trumptown mayor meant to convey.

Mr. Mayor, being unopposed does not give you the right to pander to the hate growing in the South Jersey region, even if it was not what you meant to convey. You may have won now, but the anti-Trump sentiment is growing, even in comfortably red districts of the Garden State, and you shouldn’t stay comfortable when in four years that campaign tag comes back to haunt you.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday, November 11, 2018, New Jerseyans elected Democratic candidates Andy Kim; Mikie Sherrill; and Tom Malinowski to the United States House of Representatives. Feeling blue? Oh yeah.

Manchester, New Jersey, sample ballot

 

(Photo Credit 1: Huffington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Author’s photo)

 

 

Newark, New Jersey, is the next Flint!

While Flint, Michigan, is still waiting for clean water, another water crisis is brewing, this time in a predominantly Black community in the largest city in New Jersey, Newark. It has been an ongoing fight between residents in the state and the city itself.

Newark school teachers and an environmental organization are preparing to file a lawsuit against both Newark and New Jersey, claiming that a lead tainted water problem has not been resolved. While the city denies the assertion (calling it “absolutely and outrageously false” and a politically motivated call to action in the heat of a mayoral campaign), state and district officials shut off water fountains in 30 schools in the city, in response to the testing that showed elevated levels of lead contaminating the water in the schools.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a federal report has noted that Newark’s lead levels are among the highest in the country over the last three years for water systems serving over 50,000 people. The NRDC also alleges that Newark unlawfully denied its public record requests that sought information about the water testing.

In a 2017 study on the drinking water, about 20 percent of samples came in above the Safe Drinking Water Act standards for lead concentrations. The highest ten percent of those samples averaged 26 parts per billion (ppb); the federal limit is 15 ppb and one address tested more than 9 times the standard.

Not only Newark is suffering from dangerous amounts of lead in their water, the whole state is affected. At least one sample from four out of five public water systems in New Jersey contained lead between 2013 and 2015.

It is not just lead threatening the state’s water supply. A cancer-causing chemical, PFAS (fluorinated compounds, including perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, found in food packaging and nonstick products), is more pervasive in New Jersey than any other state in the country. From 2013-2016, testing required by the EPA showed that 16 million Americans were being served water containing PFOA. 1.6 million New Jerseyans are drinking PFOA infected water, the most in any single state. PFOA is a manmade chemical and doesn’t breakdown naturally in the environment, leading scientists to believe that every American has some amount of the chemical in their bloodstream.

Sources for the fluorinated compounds in New Jersey include:
Naval Weapons Station Earle, (Monmouth County);
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, (Ocean County);
Solvay Specialty Polymer and Arkema, West Deptford (Gloucester County);
Dupont’s Chambers Works facility, Pennsville (Salem County).

Firefighting foam is blamed for the contamination in military sites. Even though the foam is no longer used in training, it is very likely that the chemicals have remained in the environment, and more importantly, in the water. In November, the New Jersey Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would institute enforceable standards for PFOA in drinking water at 14 parts per trillion, which is a stricter threshold than the federal government (at 70 parts per trillion enacted in 2016).

The moral of the story is: One does not need to look at red states for crisis in water contamination; these problems extend beyond red and blue states. New Jersey failed its citizens in providing clean and safe drinking water, and it will continue to fail until politicians are held accountable for the abysmal response to our poisoned drinking water.

This is a bottle of water from the tap.

 

(Photo Credit: WDEL)

 

New Jersey Must End the Slaughter of Black Mothers

While touting a more progressive and feminist agenda than his predecessor, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, which will expand the protections of the state’s existing wage and hour law and amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to make discrimination in wages on the basis of any protected class an unlawful employment practice. The law should be applauded as a step in the right direction to fix the state’s pay gap disparity. However, New Jersey falls horrifically short when it comes to another women’s issue: maternal health. The maternal health of New Jersey’s women is one of the worst in the country; pregnancy-related deaths, while they are progressively climbing in the United States, is double the national average in the Garden State. Ranking 47thout of 50 in maternal deaths, according to America’s Health Rankings, a report by the United Health Foundations, in New Jersey 37 women die, on average, for every 100,000 live births. The national average is 20.

The disparities for black women in the state are even more grotesque, with African-Americans in New Jersey five times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy related complications. New Jersey’s maternal mortality remains worsethan that of Mississippi(26.5 deaths per 100,000 live births). While New Jersey has one of the lowest infant mortality, the racial gap between Black and White infants is one of the largest in the country. Black babies in New Jersey are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies.

According to a proclamation celebrating the state’s first ever Maternal Health Awareness Day, the leading causes of pregnancy-related death include cardiovascular disease, pregnancy-related heart failure, embolism, septic shock and cerebral hemorrhage. Other factors include obesity, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, lack of prenatal care, and drug use.

Members of Murphy’s cabinet have highlighted their concerns about the disparity and have proposed ways to help reduce it. Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the Department of Health Commissioner, and Carole Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Humans Services, have pledged to improve data collection and modernize government systems to provide more efficient, better quality of care that results in fewer racial disparities in general. They also promised to better coordinate government services to help address housing, transportation, nutrition, and other social factors that have a tremendous impact on the health of vulnerable residents.

Toxic racism, especially in northern New Jersey, plays a significant factor in the inequalities between Black and White women, one that transcends economic or healthcare access. New Jersey only has 15% percent Black population, yet they are the worse off for many of the state’s current health, economic, and criminalization issues. Wealthy, well-educated Black women with quality healthcare experience poorer outcomes than White women, regardless of their economic or social status. Improving the current trends of lack of care for Black women requires greater awareness, but changes in healthcare policy also need to be addressed.

Finally, New Jersey’s Black population is overwhelmingly in poverty, far beyond their White counterparts. The state average rate of poverty is 10.9%. For Whites, it’s 8.3%; for African-Americans the rate is 19.7%. For Black women in New Jersey, poverty is a reproductive rights crisis. Poverty leads to lack of pre-natal care, which contributes directly to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States. New Jersey must address universal access to real healthcare for all. Otherwise, the issue of maternal mortality will continue to besmirch the reputation of the Garden State.

 

(Infographic Credit: New Jersey State Health Assessment Data)