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Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks. (Photo: Office of the Governor.)

Lawmaker will seek to impeach corrections commissioner over prison abuse scandal

Jean Stanfield says she will introduce Assembly resolution to impeach Marcus Hicks

By David Wildstein, February 05 2021 7:02 pm

Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield is planning to initiate impeachment proceedings against state Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks over allegations of beatings and sexual assaults at a woman’s prison he ran.

Stanfield’s move to ask the State Assembly to impeach a member of Gov. Phil Murphy’s cabinet – something that Speaker Craig Coughlin would need to approve – comes two weeks comes two weeks after a Star-Ledger report detailed allegations of abuse of inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison.

“People’s lives are at stake, and if Governor Murphy won’t act to remove the man at the top of all of this, I will,” Stanfield said.

Stanfield said she will introduce an impeachment resolution charging Hicks with official misconduct for violating the civil rights of the women prisoners – and for his failure to protect them.

Murphy has repeatedly declined to say if he will fire Hicks, a holdover from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, saying that he will await an independent review he ordered last week.

“Strongly-worded press releases are not enough. It’s time for the legislature to use our constitutional power to remove Commissioner Hicks from office,” Stanfield stated. “The reports of abuse on Commissioner Hicks watch will make your stomach churn. We’ve seen guards get convicted and hard evidence presented. Governor Murphy has had his chance to fire Commissioner Hicks. It’s time for the legislature to act,” Stanfield said.

Hicks has not resigned, and it’s not clear if was aware of the allegations that led to the suspension of at least 30 prison guards and employees.

The women’s correction facility has been under fire for nearly a year, when a U.S. Department of Justice report stated that sexual and physical abuse at the prison was a out of control.

“The situation has only gotten worse since then,” said Stanfield, noting that multiple prison guards have been convicted or plead guilty to sexually and physically assaulting women inmates.

In one instance cited by the Justice Department, a woman testified that a guard traded toilet paper for sex.

“Commissioner Hicks had a full year to act following the scathing Department of Justice report, but instead, he turned his back and allowed guards to terrorize the women of Edna Mahan,” noted Stanfield.  “These women have been sexually assaulted, physically beaten and stripped of their civil rights by the very people who are paid to protect them.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced criminal charges against an officer and two supervisors at the prison on Thursday.

Stanfield, a former Burlington County Sheriff and Assistant Prosecutor, says that if Murphy won’t fire him, the legislature should use their constitutional authority to remove him.

After the Justice Department report was released, Hicks failed to show up at a legislative hearing to answer questions about the allegations in his department.

“As someone who spent my entire career working to build trust between law enforcement and the community, these reports sicken me,” Stanfield said.  “Corrections officers allegedly handcuffed one woman in a cell and savagely beat her, while they punched another woman in the head 28 times, all in one incident.”

The call for Hicks’ head crossed party lines.

All 26 Democrats in the State Senate signed a letter calling Hicks to resign.  So have State Sen. Kristin Corrado and all seven Republican women in the Assembly, and

Coughlin has announced that the Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold hearings to probe the allegations.

Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican candidate for governor, told Hicks to resign and derided the “systemic abuse of female inmates

Stanfield, who is challenging State Sen. Dawn Addiego in a closely-watched State Senate race in the 8th legislative district this year, is calling out Murphy to oust Hicks before the legislature removes him.

“Governor Murphy needs to decide if he stands with abuse victims or not. From Katie Brennan to the countless women abused at Edna Mahan, a pattern is building in which this Governor would rather protect the men at top than the women being abused,” said Stanfield.  “His silence on this issue is deafening and keeping Commissioner Hicks in his job is nothing short of dangerous.”

Mirroring the federal process, impeachment begins the State Assembly.  If the lower house votes to impeach, the State Senate would hold a trial.

Under the current State Constitution, no cabinet member has been impeached.

In 2001, then-Assemblyman LeRoy Jones, Jr. sought to impeach Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero after becoming engrossed in a racial profiling scandal when he was the state attorney general.

While Donald DiFrancesco, who served as both Acting Governor and Senate President, called on Verniero to resign, Republican Assembly Speaker Jack Collins refused to initiate impeachment proceedings.

Verniero ultimately resigned from the top court.

In 2018, the Murphy administration hired Verniero to lead an independent inquiry into allegations that Al Alvarez, a former campaign staffer and administration official, had raped Brennan during the governor’s 2017 campaign.

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