Conditions at the Essex County jail

This is about our relationship with the freeholders, the money we send them and what they do with the money. It’s about the immigration detention facility that the county maintains on Doremus Avenue in Newark.

Essex County has a contract with ICE, which pays the county a per diem for each detainee housed at the jail. In return, the county is supposed to maintain the physical plant, provide food, recreation, medical care, etc.

People have been attending the freeholder meetings for the past year and a half demanding that the county break the contract with ICE. They claim that the conditions in the jail are horrible; Essex County says the jail is the best run jail in New Jersey. It’s possible that both statements are true.

Two inmates have died in the past two months and the warden resigned last month after being arrested and charged with drunken and reckless driving.

In August 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Office of the Inspector General made an unannounced visit to the jail and found that the conditions were, in fact, horrible. The report was made public in February and in response, the freeholders called a public hearing, which was held on Thursday, March 14. Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo Jr. of course could not be bothered to attend; he sent the Director of ICE Programs, Phil Alagia, in his place. Phil, by the way, just received a $45K per year raise because of his excellent oversight of the jail since 2011. At the hearing, the administrator of the jail, the food service coordinator, the ICE liaison and of course Phil, took up the first hour and a half of the meeting, sharing their résumés and career achievements, assuring everyone that really, things at the jail were fine. It was as if the OIG report didn’t exist. The freeholders asked a few challenging questions but not as many as I would have liked.

When the meeting was opened for comments, some people called for the county to break the contract; others wanted the county to fix the problems and appoint an independent oversight board. The county says there will be a report by mid-April. Stay tuned.

Hardly anyone knows who their freeholders are and even fewer know what a freeholder does.  If this situation upsets you, please contact your freeholder.

In Montclair: Brendan Gill, freeholder president at 973-621-4479. Carlos Pomares, District 5 freeholder at 973-621-4467.




Support climate change legislation

I am delighted to learn that bipartisan legislation has been introduced into the U.S. House to address the frightening problem of climate change. It would put a gradually increasing price on carbon and distribute the money equally to all U.S. citizens. This would be good for us individually, good for the economy, and good for the planet.

The recent events in our Midwest and southern Africa are truly frightening evidence of the effects of climate change, and they will be worse if we don’t act soon.

I have written to my senators and congresswoman urging them to support HR 763 and to introduce similar legislation in the senate, and I urge you to do the same.




Let’s talk about death… let’s have the conversation

I am dying to talk about death. Unfortunately, we live in a death-phobic, death denying society.

As a certified hospice and palliative care nurse at VNA/Barnabas Hospice serving Essex County, I witness the terrible struggles New Jersey residents face at the end of life, complicated by the fact that many have never openly talked about what they want their end of life to look like.

Did you know?

In New Jersey, the average terminally ill patient spends his last days hooked up to a machine in the hospital. In fact, New Jersey patients near the end of life are treated with more aggressive care than their counterparts in almost any other state in our nation

In New Jersey, just 40 percent of residents have advance directives1

Nationally, 89 percent of people surveyed said health care providers should discuss how to navigate end-of-life decisions with patients. Yet, just 17 percent of those surveyed reported having talks with their healthcare providers.

Talking about death and dying are uncomfortable yet vitally important. While the content of our lives may all differ, we will all be born and we will all die. We live in a death phobic culture: health and youth focused. Why each of us maybe  uncomfortable can range from unresolved grief over the loss of a loved one, fear of the unknown or fear of illness, suffering or loss of control. Developing the ability to explore the facets of death and dying options is known as death literacy. I feel strongly that as a society we need to develop a death literacy a common comfortable language to openly talk about “it” without feeling as though “if I talk about it, it might hasten my death!” This is as ridiculous as “If I talk about sex, I might get pregnant!”

On April 17th, 12:00-1:00pm, why not join the COYL (Conversations of Your Life) Task force of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute (NJHCQI) at Edgemont Park in Montclair to celebrate National Healthcare Decisions Day. There will be a panel of experts to discuss crucial end-of-life care concepts and documents with a Q&A session.

The guest speakers include Dr. Audrey Radin, Hospice Medical Director, VNA/RWJBH Home Care & Hospice, Dr. Sheree Starrett, Shana Siegel, Esq. Norris McLaughlin, Louis Monticchio, Director of Pastoral Care, VNA/RWJBH Home Care & Hospice.

Following the panel discussion, Mayor Robert Jackson of Montclair, Mary Ellen Clyne, PhD, president & CEO of Clara Maass Medical Center and Jaklyn DeVore, Essex’s County Division of Senior Services will lead by example and share why advance care planning is important to them and/or sign their own advance directive.

As an Essex County resident and chair of Essex County COYL Task Force, I urge you to start the conversation, develop your death literacy and complete your medical advance care plan to ensure your loved ones are not left struggling with guessing what is important at life’s end.

Come to this Kick-Off session – Part one of a five part series focused on end-of life preparation – from funeral planning, the difference between palliative and hospice care, managing finances and more.

For more information, access our website at