This story was updated with comment from Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez at 4:01 p.m.
Gov. Phil Murphy tapped former State Comptroller Matt Boxer to investigate abuses at the state’s only women’s prison that have spurred bipartisan calls for the resignation or suspension of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks.
“I am sickened by the horrific reports of what happened at Edna Mahan on January 11,” Murphy said Wednesday. “Let me be clear: every individual in state custody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and we must always remember that female inmates have long been uniquely vulnerable to abuse.”
Earlier this month, NJ Advance Media reported dozens of staffers at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility were suspended after severely beating inmates. One woman was beaten so badly she is now confined to a wheelchair. NJ Advance Media was first to report the former comptroller’s investigation.
The beatings have spurred a state criminal probe, and a growing number of lawmakers have called for Hicks to resign, be removed or be placed on leave over the abuses.
Murphy on Wednesday appeared to stand by Hicks.
“I know Commissioner Hicks took immediate actions and placed a number of staff on leave, and I support these steps, but we must go further,” the governor said.
The prison has a troubled history. The latest scandal comes just months after state officials entered into a tentative settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over sexual assaults there.
The list of lawmakers who’ve called for action on Hicks include Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), the legislature’s top-ranking woman, every Republican woman in the Assembly, Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill), Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy).
Lopez, for one, was heartened by Murphy’s announcement.
“From Mr. Boxer’s reputation as a follower of the facts, I trust that his investigation will be conducted in the most comprehensive and expeditious way possible,” she said. “I urge Mr. Boxer to look beyond the alleged January 11th event to identify the systemic issues at Edna Mahan leading the facility to be continually marked as an epicenter of abuse. Moreover, I implore the investigation to be centered around the victims of this assault, and that the accounts of inmates are taken with the utmost seriousness.”
Weinberg and State Sen. Linda Greenstein also want Edna Mahan Administrator Sarah Davis, the facility’s warden, gone. The Democratic Assemblywoman urged Murphy to put Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti on leave.
Murphy suggested anyone at corrections could end up in the firing line.
“Based on [Boxer’s] findings, which I expect to receive in an expedited fashion, any individual who acted improperly will be held fully accountable,” he said. “These types of incidents will never be tolerated.”