The U.S. Department of Justice and the New Jersey Department of Corrections reached an agreement to protect inmates from sexual abuse at the state’s only women’s prison. It includes, among several reforms, the installation of an independent monitor, officials announced Tuesday.
The agreement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, could represent a significant step to overcome the sad history of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.
“Our agreement addresses the systemic issues that have plagued the Edna Mahan facility, ensures that women incarcerated there will receive the basic protections they are entitled to under the Constitution, and requires accountability through public transparency,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a statement according to a foxnews.com report.
The state Department of Corrections said in a statement that the agreement marks a step in transforming the culture at the prison.
“We look at this measure as an opportunity to close the book on the sordid history of the facility and pen a new way forward, driven by integrity, safety, and support services to help those in our care flourish,” Acting Commissioner Victoria Kuhn said.
As reported by nj.co, federal officials said under the proposed consent decree New Jersey will increase supervision at Edna Mahan, make it easier and safer for prisoners to report abuse, hold staff more accountable, improve transparency and appoint an independent monitor to oversee the reforms.
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“The goal of this agreement is to ensure that this horrific conduct never happens again,” said Rachael Honig, the Acting U.S. Attorney of New Jersey. “And that means while the investigation has reached its conclusion, the work has not.”
State leaders must develop new ways to protect prisoners. They include working on policies about sexual abuse, retaliation, surveillance cameras and the process for reporting allegations.
The Justice Department issued a report in April 2020 finding that state official running the prison violated inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them from sexual abuse, despite being aware of systemic problems.
Then in January 2021 guards at the prison conducted violent raids on inmates according to authorities and video released from officials’ cameras. The state attorney general had called the cell extractions a brutal attack, and 10 guards face criminal charges.
That led to calls from lawmakers for the state’s top corrections official to be removed from office. Marcus Hicks announced his resignation in June, and Gov. Phil Murphy said he planned to close the prison, a move that could take years.
The state has settled over 20 lawsuits filed by current and former inmates who say they were direct victims of sexual misconduct, as well as all inmates incarcerated since Jan. 1, 2014.
Justice Department officials have explained that even if the prison closes, the consent agreement would still apply to any facility that succeeds Edna Mahan.
The agreement names Jane Parnell, a former Washington state correctional administrator, as the independent monitor. Public meetings will be held at least semi-annually and should provide an update, a space for questions, and respond to requests for information.