(TRENTON) – In response to an NJ.com report of allegations of physical abuse against three women incarcerated at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, Assemblywomen Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex) and Pam Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington) sent the following letter to Governor Phil Murphy asking for New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks and Office of the Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti to be placed on administrative leave pending the investigation:
Dear Governor Murphy,
We are outraged by the allegations of physical assault perpetrated by correctional personnel against three inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women on January 11th as reported by the Star-Ledger/NJ.com (January 25, 2021). We are extremely troubled and shocked by the accounts from the victims that this assault resulted in a broken eye socket among other injuries.
As you are aware, this is not the first time that Edna Mahan has been the subject of an investigation regarding the well-being of inmates. According to a report issued by the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division from October 2016 to November 2019, five Edna Mahan correction officers and one civilian employee were convicted or pled guilty to charges related to sexual abuse of more than ten women under their watch. Examples include a May 2018 judgement where a correction officer was found guilty of five counts of sexually abusing prisoners and a January 2019 sentence where an officer pled guilty to repeatedly sexually abusing two prisoners over a period of several years.
Aside from the criminal proceedings mentioned, the report also identified inadequate systems for preventing, detecting, and responding to sexual abuse at Edna Mahan, harsh and isolating conditions for victims who report sexual abuse, and an inadequate system for investigating reports of sexual abuse among other findings. Based on the investigation the report goes on to find “that there is reasonable cause to believe, based on the totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents discovered that: (1) conditions at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (Edna Mahan) violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution due to the sexual abuse of prisoners by the facility’s staff; and (2) these violations are pursuant to a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights protected by the Eighth Amendment.”
Without a doubt, we are certain you can agree that these findings are disturbing, reprehensible and have no place in our correctional facilities. While we are aware that the Department of Corrections is conducting an investigation into the allegations, we cannot over stress the importance of a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the incident and policies that led to such an assault to happen in the first place.
While the investigation is underway, we ask that you immediately place Corrections Commissioner Hicks and Office of the Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti on administrative leave. As Prime Sponsors and supporters of the Dignity Act for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act (A3979) which went into effect in August of 2020, we further ask that the provisions of the bill be implemented and enforce immediately to provide critical safeguards to inmates at Edna Mahan.
We believe that this incident, among the many others at Edna Mahan, demonstrate a pattern of failure in protecting the well-being of inmates and underscore the need for serious reform within Edna Mahan and facilities across New Jersey.
We urge you to expeditiously conduct these investigations and take the necessary steps in protecting vulnerable inmates.
Yvonne Lopez Valerie Vainieri Huttle
Assemblywoman, District 19 Assemblywoman, District 37
Eliana Pintor Marin Pamela R. Lampitt
Assemblywoman, District 29 Assemblywoman, District 6
CC: Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Cory Booker
U.S. Department of Justice
N.J. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal
N.J. DOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks
N.J. Office of Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti
N.J. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin