Gov. Phil Murphy stood by the acting Corrections Commissioner Victoria Kuhn amid questions about her close ties to former Commissioner Marcus Hicks, who resigned Tuesday after an independent report found lapses in oversight of the state’s only women’s prison.
“Listen, Victoria Kuhn is an outstanding public servant. I have to say she’s got a very significant career, if you read her biography,” he said. “She and I had a good conversation last night. She’s got a lot of experience that’s relevant, including in law enforcement as a prosecutor. She’s in this line of business for the right reason.”
Kuhn was Hicks’ chief of staff before Tuesday, meaning she was a member of the Department of Corrections leadership on Jan. 11 and 12, when guards at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility severely beat a number of inmates during unapproved late-night cell extractions.
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. The process is expected to begin during this month’s budget negotiations and will likely take years to complete.
It’s not clear whether Kuhn is in the running to permanently lead the Department of Corrections. Some legislators have called on Murphy to conduct a national search for a permanent head, insisting that officials within a department that has struggled to tamp down on abuses in the state’s prisons would be unable to enact needed reforms.
Murphy on Wednesday said the search for Hicks’ permanent successor would indeed be a national one.
“I suspect, without making any news, we’ll have a very broad search for the replacement of commissioner Hicks,” he said. “And I want to thank Victoria for stepping up as the acting commissioner in the meantime.”
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.