Eight months after Commissioner of Corrections Marcus Hicks was forced to resign after an independent report found lapses in his management of the state’s only women’s prison, Gov. Phil Murphy has nominated Victoria Kuhn, Hicks’s former chief of staff, to fill the post.
The nomination of Kuhn, who has served as acting commissioner since June 2021, follows Murphy’s pledge to conduct a national search to replace Hicks.
“Since Victoria was first asked to lead the Department of Corrections, she has impressed myself and many others with her dedication to reform and integrity,” said Murphy. “As a career corrections staffer, Victoria has the experience and knowledge to lead the Department during this pivotal time. I look forward to her confirmation by the Senate and to continuing our prison reform efforts together.”
The governor’s statement did not reference a national search.
Kuhn was a member of the Department of Corrections leadership on January 11-12, 2021 when guards at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility severely beat a number of inmates during unapproved late-night cell extractions. Several corrections officers have been charged.
Murphy has announced he would close the facility in the wake of former State Comptroller Matt Boxer’s report into the abuses at the prison, that has included allegations of sexual assaults.
Hicks named Kuhn as his deputy chief of staff just five days before Murphy took office. She had previously served as an assistant Cumberland County prosecutor and deputy attorney general and was director of New Jersey’s Equal Employment Division and of the Office of employee relations.
If confirmed by the Senate, Kuhn would become the first woman to hold the corrections cabinet post.
But her Senate confirmation may not be easy. Newly-elected State Sen. Edward R. Durr (R-Swedesboro has senatorial courtesy over Kuhn, a Gloucester County resident.
Another freshman senator, Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton), said last year that Kuhn’s proximity to Hicks and the absence of any sort of legislative review left her with concerns.
“This isn’t your ordinary resignation and replace someone by second in command,” Stanfield said last summer, while she was serving in the State Assembly. “She was there the whole time all these horrible things happened. It doesn’t inspire trust that there’s going to be real change.”
Stanfield was among the loudest voices calling for Hicks’ removal. She introduced a resolution to impeach the former commissioner, though it never saw movement.