In response to a disturbing report revealing the prevalence of sexual abuse in one New Jersey prison, three Democratic legislators sponsor a resolution to create a commission to study sexual assault, misconduct and harassment by staff against inmates in State correctional facilities. After unanimously passing the Senate on May 14, the resolution unanimously passed the full Assembly Thursday.
The resolution (SJR-79/AJR-167) sponsored by Senator Linda Greenstein, Senator Nia Gill and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle creates 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.
“While we have enacted multiple pieces of legislation to address issues of sexual assault and misconduct at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, it is abundantly clear that more needs to be done,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex), Chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “This commission will explore the impact and feasibility of potential policy changes and initiatives to put an end to the rampant abuse we have seen in recent years.”
Among other issues, the proposed commission will 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.
“We must protect the human and civil rights of our incarcerated women,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex, Passaic). “A woman does not lose her value as a human being when incarcerated, nor does she forfeit control over her body. We must address the practices and procedures that allow the pervasive culture of rape and sexual assault which gives staff the opportunity and audacity to abuse their authority by preying on vulnerable women for sexual gratification. For these reasons we must study sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment by staff against inmates in state correctional facilities.”
“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,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “The inmates in our state prisons are under our care, which means the treatment 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 abuse is prevented from ever happening in the first place.”
Having passed both houses of the Legislature, the resolution will take effect immediately.