The Gloucester County Jail has a new set of eyes.
County officials yesterday displayed a $250,000 digital-camera system that will monitor and record activity at the Woodbury facility with the aim of proving or disproving inmate complaints of abuse.
The system was installed largely in response to inmate Bernard King's death two years ago after a scuffle with corrections officers.
At the time, investigators could not determine exactly what had led to King's death, mostly because the few cameras in the jail were designed only to monitor, not to record. And there were no cameras in the area of the altercation.
Now administrators can sit at their desks and view jail activity on computer screens with the help of 71 digital cameras. They also can monitor the county Juvenile Detention Center in Clarksboro, where 15 cameras were installed.
Officials said they expected to have cameras in the women's jail, also in Clarksboro, within 30 days.
"We now the have the ability to record any incident, regardless of who was involved, to assure that the truth comes out," Freeholder Director Stephen Sweeney said yesterday at a jail news conference.
He said the digital system would protect inmates and corrections officers and save taxpayers' money by cutting down on lawsuits. Sweeney and other officials said the cameras had recently disproved an inmate's claims that a guard abused him.
"This is worth its weight in gold," said Robert Balicki, director of the county Department of Correctional Services. "It's going to keep everybody honest in this place. That's all we want."
Freeholders took control of the jail from the Sheriff's Office in 2003, partly in response to public outcry over the April 9 death of King, a Lindenwold man with a history of mental illness.
Monroe Township police had arrested King, 32, for violating a restraining order at his father's home in Williamstown.
The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office investigated his death. A grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against any corrections officers involved in the scuffle.
"We really couldn't determine what happened," said William J. King, a member of the jail's Citizens Advisory Board, who is not related to Bernard King. "The stories that came out were conflicting."
The board, formed by freeholders in response to King's death, recommended the camera system.