Swain Bill to Incorporate Dignity and Respect for Incarcerated Persons in Core Mission of State Corrections Officers Passes Assembly Judiciary Panel

(TRENTON) – To be treated with dignity and respect is a basic human right. Legislation to ensure these basic principles are included in the core mission of the work of corrections officers in New Jersey was approved today by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

This measure is one of six legislative actions taken by the Assembly Judiciary Committee to address the concerns raised over the current culture and environment of New Jersey’s only women’s prison, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. The 6-bill package aims to improve transparency and training for corrections officers, accountability, and access to reentry programs for inmates to curb recidivism.

The bill (A-5751), sponsored by Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic) would require that the core mission of State corrections officers to treat inmates with dignity, fairness, and respect be established and incorporated throughout both the basic and in-service training these officers are required to complete.

To implement this requirement, the basic training and in-service curriculum would include training and education on the following topics:

-de-escalation, including training in interacting with combative or threatening inmates and inmates experiencing mental health crises;

-minimization of use of force against inmates; cultural diversity and implicit bias;

-appropriate methods of engaging with inmates of diverse cultures and religions and inmates who are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community and gender nonconforming inmates; the rights of inmates;

-lifestyle stressors, self-awareness, and self-regulation;

-officer and inmate safety;

-communication skills; and,

-any other topic deemed necessary to advance the core mission of treating inmates with dignity, fairness, and respect.

The measure would also increase the mandatory in-service training from 20 hours to 40 hours.  The additional 20 hours are to be dedicated to the topics implementing the core mission as specified.  It would also clarify that passing a criminal history record background check is a qualification for employment as a State corrections officer.

Assemblywoman Swain issued the following statement on the bill:

“The unspeakable acts of abuse which have occurred at Edna Mahan must never happen again. Dignity and respect are human rights regardless of where a person resides. This core belief must be ingrained in the core mission of the duties our correctional police officers perform every day. The legislation will help ensure these officers have the training and tools they need to address any situation that arises with compassion and safety at the forefront of their decisions.”

The six bills reviewed by the Assembly Judiciary panel are the first of a two-part legislative package addressing the concerns at Edna Mahan. The Assembly Women and Children Committee will convene in June to review additional measures concerning Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.