Assembly lawmakers introduced a six-bill package to address abuses at the state’s only women’s prison Wednesday.
The package includes measures requiring corrections officers to wear body cameras, mandating specialized training for corrections officials tasked with conducting sexual abuse investigations and allowing more inmates to take advantage of the state’s residential community release program.
It follows a joint hearing of the Assembly Judiciary and Women and Children Committees over inmate abuses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, the only women’s prison in the state.
“The pattern of abuse, including rampant sexual abuse, and systemic failures at Edna Mahan call out for legislative action,” said Assembly Judiciary Chairman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City). “When the women at Edna Mahan needed protection, their calls and complaints went unanswered. Some even watched their complaints discarded in the trash right in front of them. Cultural change and additional accountability and oversight are needed to safeguard the basic human rights of these inmates.”
The abuses at Edna Mahan, a facility with a history of sexual assault where at least two inmates were severely beaten during cell extractions on Jan. 11 and 12, have spawned numerous investigations and criminal charges against 10 guards and supervisors.
Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti announced he would resign on Aug. 1 after a poor showing before the joint committee, and almost the entire State Senate and a smaller number of assembly members have called for Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks to step down or be removed from his post.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s investigation into the abuses remains ongoing, and an independent investigation Gov. Phil Murphy tapped former State Comptroller Matt Boxer to lead is also under way, though the criminal probe may have stunted its progress.
“These six measures are the committee’s first steps toward address these depravities and will improve transparency and training for corrections officers, accountability, and access to reentry programs for inmates to curb recidivism,” Mukherji said.
The Assembly Women and Children Committee will meet in June to weigh additional bills related to Edna Mahan.