A class action law suit was filed against the County of Bergen challenging the county’s practice of charging inmates in the Bergen County work release
program a daily fee for room and board as well as a daily fee to “lease” GPS tracking ankle bracelets.
Defendants who are already employed when incarcerated in the “work release” program are required to surrender any earnings to the program administrator who then deducts fees and returns the balance, if any.
One inmate who recently surrendered his after tax paycheck of $539 ten days later received a check from the Bergen County Sheriff for $189. Despite a wage garnishment which had already deducted money his employer is required to pay directly to Bergen County an additional $350 was taken without explanation.
Ariel Schochet, the father of four girls, who once worked as a portfolio manager at Wall Street firms, was jailed in Bergen County eight times in the past two years for missing court-ordered payments after the end of his 17-year marriage. Job losses and a weak economy caused him to run through his savings trying to pay his ex-wife alimony and child support that totaled over $100,000 a year.
Schochet was released in October 2013 by the New Jersey Supreme Court
who found that Bergen County had denied Schochet due process when they failed to follow the rules by ordering his incarceration without a proper hearing.
Schochet brought the law suit as a class action on behalf of all those who have been held in the Bergen County work release and charged unauthorized “fees”. In papers filed with the court Schochet describes the plaintiffs saying, “many members of the Class are low-income, may not know of their rights and would likely have great difficulty in pursuing their rights individually.”
Schochet told the Bergen Dispatch "The Bergen County Sheriff Department systematically ignores the rule of law. Somehow they need to be held to task for the many ways that they have stripped us of our constitutional rights. I only hope that this is the first of many suits that will step by step fix this horrific abuse"
On March 5 an Appellate Division Judge ordered another inmate released from the Bergen County Jail’s work release. Judge Ellen Koblitz’s addressed the work release fees in her order:
“Any enforcement of Adnan Manla’s child support obligation, short of incarceration, may continue. Mr. Manla’s immediate release should not be delayed because of fees assessed for his participation in the work release program.”
Mr. Manla who was unemployed and deemed to be indigent by the court, challenged the order to incarcerate him as not being based on a proper finding that he has the required ability-to-pay the amount of money set by the court for his release.
Bergen County's Work Release Agreement
Photo: Bergen County Sheriff Officer Daniel Marro (the work release administrator) testifies in court at an enforcement hearing.