Bridgeton prison increases security

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday, June 20, 2006.)

Security was increased Monday at four state prisons as officers investigated a threat of simultaneous, armed prison uprisings and alleged attempts to organize the assassination of Newark Mayor-elect Cory Booker.

The state Department of Corrections slashed inmate activities and movements as officers searched for contraband and other information related to the threat of uprisings at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton and three other prisons.

The threat derived from a letter confiscated from the cell of convicted murderer Lester Alford, a leader of the Bloods gang and an inmate at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway.

Alford’s letter envisioned simultaneous external armed attacks at the four prisons, using Glock handguns already obtained, combined with internal takeover by inmates faking illnesses, according to a union official’s online memo warning corrections officers.

The letter included officers’ schedules and numbers of officers on shifts, the best times to take action and efforts to smuggle in cell phones to help coordinate attacks, according to the memo. The plan also called for civilian and police hostages and several demands, such as an end to alleged officers’ brutality, improvement of prison food and the shortening of parole dates.

The most detailed information pertained to South Woods, according to the memo. It wasn’t clear whether Alford wrote or received the letter.

The letter also included details on the gang’s alleged efforts to kill Booker, Newark’s reform-minded mayor-elect and subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary, according to top corrections officer union officials. Police began round-the-clock protection for Booker several weeks ago due to alleged death threats, according to a recent report by The Star-Ledger.

“The Bloods don’t like him,” said Joe Malagrino, president of Police Benevolence Association Local 105, which represents rank-and-file corrections officers and other law-enforcement officials. “They want to put a hit on him. He’s tough on gangs in Newark.”

DOC spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer declined to confirm any details beyond the fact that there was a violent threat and officers are searching four prisons: South Woods, East Jersey, Northern State Prison in Newark, and New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

However, several officers confirmed details of the letter, though some declined to have their names published because the DOC limits what they can say to the media.

“This was basically good work by our corrections officers,” Fedkenheuer said.

Malagrino and Tom Moran, head of the sergeants’ union, met with DOC Chief of Staff Charlie Ellis at 8:30 p.m. Sunday to request lockdowns and searches at the four prisons, and Ellis ordered the security hikes with the blessing of DOC Commissioner George Hayman, who was out of state on vacation. As of Monday night, searches had taken place without any problems, Moran said.

“The letter is pretty specific with some details of gang activity,” Moran said. “One might question how valid it is, but we couldn’t take a chance one of our people could be attacked.”