In response to a disturbing report revealing the prevalence of sexual abuse in one New Jersey prison, the Assembly Women and Children Committee advanced a resolution on Wednesday that would create a commission to study sexual assault, misconduct and harassment by staff against inmates in State correctional facilities.
The resolution (AJR-167) would create a 17-member commission comprised of both state leaders and members of the public to examine issues affecting the safety and rights of inmates in State correctional facilities.
Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township is New Jersey’s only prison for state-sentenced female prisoners. Over the span of just one decade, eight different employees were arrested for sexual abuse while several other employees were fired or suspended due to abuse allegations. As a result of these incidents, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey launched an investigation into the facility.
The final report released in April 2020 revealed more than 70 documented investigations into potential staff-on-prisoner misconduct over the years and concluded that there are long-standing, systemic problems with sexual abuse by staff members that both the facility and the NJ Department of Corrections (NJDOC) have failed to remedy.
Among other issues, the proposed commission would examine matters related to sexual assault and misconduct in these facilities, including what procedures are in place for reporting and investigating allegations; how prisoners are protected from retaliation and offered services to help with the trauma of their assault; whether it would be possible to increase the number of female staff members; if a citizen oversight board should be established; and more.
Upon the committee advancing the resolution, legislative sponsor Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) released the following statement:
“The reports of rampant sexual misconduct and abuse in Edna Mahan are truly appalling. The fact that little has been done to stop staff members from verbally harassing, groping, inappropriately spying on and sexually assaulting the women in this facility for decades is something everyone involved should be ashamed of.
“The inmates in our state prisons are under our care, which means the treatment that they receive is a reflection on New Jersey as a whole. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. There is no place for abuse and mistreatment within our criminal justice system.
“Not only do we need to hold abusers accountable for their actions, but we need to ensure that abuse is prevented from ever happening in the first place.
“This commission would help us understand what is being done and what needs to be done in our prisons to ensure these injustices do not continue taking place.”