Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy) cheered the coming resignation of New Jersey Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti a day after he appeared before Assembly hearings over abuses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.
“The passage of the Dignity Act granted New Jersey the ability to create the strongest corrections oversight entity in the nation,” Lopez said. “Yesterday’s hearing cemented the reality that the office was not living up to the expectations or authority with which it has been vested.”
DiBenedetti’s resignation, effective August 1, was first reported by NJ Advance Media.
The ombudsman on Thursday appeared before a joint hearing of the Assembly Judiciary and Women and Children Committees, where he struggled to defend his office’s lax oversight of the state’s only women’s prison, a facility with a documented history of sexual and physical abuses.
He faced fire Thursday over an unannounced inspection of the prison that happened on the same day as a planned inspection.
He also said he believed conditions at the prison “weren’t unacceptable” before news of widespread suspension of Edna Mahan officers over alleged inmate beatings on Jan. 11 and 12.
Those abuses, first reported by NJ Advance Media, came to light just months after Edna Mahan announced it had reached a tentative settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over sexual assaults there.
“I look forward to working with new leadership to realize the full potential of the Office of the Corrections Ombudsman. I stand with prisoners, advocates, survivors and the formerly incarcerated in seeing the opportunity a renewed office can bring to enact transformative change,” Lopez said. “Our work is still not done, but with new leadership and perspective in the Office of the Corrections Ombudsman, we are one step closer to changing the culture of abuse and ensuring our prisoners are treated with dignity and respect.”
Some of the legislature’s Republican members were less satisfied with the news, renewing calls for the removal of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks.
“That’s a start, but it’s not the resignation we need to restore decency and responsiveness to the DOC,” said State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa). “As we learn more about the deplorable environment at the Edna Mahan facility, it becomes more disturbing that the Commissioner has failed to demonstrate capable leadership. There is no justification for what has transpired at the prison, no defense for allowing the abusive conduct to persist, and no excuse for Hicks remaining in a position that he clearly is not capable of handling.”