TRENTON -- New Jersey will close a minimum security prison facility in southern New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie announced in his annual budget address on Tuesday.
Citing "the continuing decrease in the state's prison population," the governor said his 2018 budget plans for the shutdown of Bayside State Prison's satellite unit at the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow Township.
The unit, which is located on the grounds of the hospital, is not a psychiatric facility. It houses about 250 inmates considered to be the lowest security threat and has an annual operating budget of $5 million, according to a corrections spokesman.
The sprawling campus near Wharton State Forest in Atlantic County has also seen two prisoner escapes in the last 18 months.
In October 2015, inmate Panagioti Souris was on the lam for less than 24 hours before his capture in Philadelphia. Last May, inmate Arthur Buckel sparked a week-long manhunt involving more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and costing taxpayers more than $200,000 in police overtime before he was captured on the Garden State Parkway.
Escaped N.J. prisoner captured
Christie made no mention of the escapes in his address, saying only that "we have made reducing the prison population a hallmark of this administration."
Matthew Schuman, the corrections spokesman, said there was "not a timeline" for the shutdown and declined to comment and why it was targeted for closure. A spokesman for the governor did not respond to additional questions about the plan.
Barry Wright, the mayor of Winslow, called the closure a "move in the right direction."
"We're happy to have Ancora here, but I was never for bringing the prison unit in," he said.
Wright, a retired police officer, said the prison unit "put a bad light on the wonderful job (the psychiatric hospital) does."
The inmates, along with the facility's 71 employees, will be relocated to other places within the Department of Corrections, Christie said.
"There will be no layoffs as a result of this closure and we will work with the existing employees for a smooth transition between other roles in the Department of Corrections," he said.
The president of the state's corrections officers' union did not return a message seeking comment.
New Jersey's prison population has been on the decline since before Christie took office and continued under his administration, falling more than 20 percent over the last decade. The governor has backed drug court programs and other reforms aimed at reducing incarceration.
Last year, Christie announced in his State of the State plans to turn the shuttered Mid-State Correctional Facility into a drug treatment facility for inmates. That facility, however, is still under construction.
Reporter Bill Duhart contributed to this story.
S.P. Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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