‘CULTURE OF RAPE’
State commission created by Murphy will study what inmates at say is wide acceptance of sexual abuse »
TRENTON » The sick culture of rape at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women will finally be examined by a dedicated panel with the power to recommend prison reforms.
Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this month signed a joint resolution to establish a 17-member Commission to Protect New Jersey Inmates from Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.
Employees at the notorious women’s incarceration facility in Union Township, Hunterdon County, have contributed to the prison’s widespread culture of rape.
The U.S. Department of Justice in April released a 29-page report saying that sexual abuse of female prisoners by Edna Mahan correction officers and staff is “severe and prevalent throughout the prison,” adding that a “culture of acceptance” of sexual abuse has “persisted for many years and continues to the present.”
From October 2016 to November 2019, five Edna Mahan correction officers and one civilian employee were convicted or pled guilty to charges related to sexual abuse of more than 10 women under their watch, according to the federal report, which concluded the New Jersey Department of Corrections fails to keep inmates in Edna Mahan safe from sexual abuse by facility staffin violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The well-documented troubles at Edna Mahan prompted State Sen. Linda Greenstein of Plainsboro to sponsor a resolution establishing a commission to study the issue of prisoner abuse.
“While we have enacted multiple pieces of legislation to address issues of sexual assault and misconduct at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, it is abundantly clear that more needs to be done,” Greenstein, a Democrat who represents parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties, said in a recent press statement. “This commission will explore the impact and feasibility of potential policy changes and initiatives to put an end to the rampant abuse we have seen in recent years.”
Murphy signed the Greenstein-sponsored resolution into lawon Sept. 14, and now he must appoint nine members onto the 17-member commission, including a former inmate of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.
Other members on the commission would include Democratic and Republican state lawmakers, the DOC commissioner, the attorney general and other Garden State officials.
The commission shall examine issues affecting the safety and rights of inmates in state correctional facilities, including, but not limited to, matters concerning official misconduct convictions, pending criminal charges and civil allegations by Edna Mahan inmates of sexual assault, sexual misconduct and sexual harassment against correctional police officers, other staff members, contractors and volunteers working in the facility, according to the resolution.
The commission also shall assess the degree of a facility’s compliance with the provisions of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 and consider whether it would be appropriate to establish a citizen oversight board to monitor a facility, among other duties.
Once the commission is up and running, it is expected to produce a final report within a year featuring legislative proposals to ensure New Jersey protects all inmates from sexual abuse.
Eight employees at Edna Mahan were terminated for sexual misconduct between 2010 and 2016; three in 2010 and five in 2016; six employees have been criminally charged with sexual abuse and official misconduct in the last two years; and the state attorney general subsequently has hired legal counsel to analyze the “administrative protocols and investigatory responses” at Edna Mahan, according to the joint resolution establishing the 17-member commission.
In addition to the criminal prosecutions, at least five civil lawsuits have been filed by Edna Mahan inmates against the DOC since 2017, including a class-action lawsuit claiming “systemic, inappropriate, and illegal treatment of the plaintiff inmates resulting from a longstanding, prison-wide culture of sexual abuse,” according to the Greenstein-sponsored resolution.
Greenstein chairs the New Jersey Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee.