(The Center Square) – Some New Jersey lawmakers want more information on roughly $21 million in settlements the state reached with current and former inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.
The lawmakers, in part, want to know whether the settlements involving 20 lawsuits include nondisclosure agreements barring the women from speaking about their time at Edna Mahan.
The taxpayer-funded settlement comes as a bipartisan group wants the removal of New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks over allegations of abuse and mistreatment of inmates at the Union Township facility.
“The Administration’s need to pay $21 million to settle civil lawsuits stemming from sexual assaults, beatings, brutality and misconduct by corrections officers at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women from 2014 to the present is just further evidence of an institution in crisis where a culture of abuse has been allowed to fester for years,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in a news release.
“We are anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation commissioned by the Governor’s Office,” Weinberg added. “This large settlement looks like it could be the first result.”
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has announced criminal charges against four Edna Mahan correctional police officers. The charges are part of an ongoing investigation by the attorney general’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office.
The charges allege the officers assaulted and seriously injured inmates during “forced cell extractions” in the facility’s Restorative Housing Unit (RHU) in January.
“There is a complete lack of leadership from the top of the Department of Corrections that trickles down to the intolerable operations at the Edna Mahan women’s prison which requires a new commissioner and ombudsman immediately,” state Assembly members Aura Dunn, R-Morris; Nancy Munoz, R-Union; Bob Auth, R-Bergen; and Christopher DePhillips, R-Bergen, said in a joint statement.
“It is clear to us the cancer has metastasized and the decades long damage can only be reversed by a complete change,” the lawmakers added. “Everyone has to go. The time for delay and investigation has passed.”
Gov. Phil Murphy previously appointed attorney and former State Comptroller Matt Boxer to conduct an independent investigation into the January incident. Boxer has billed the state roughly $64,000 to date, The Associated Press reported.
“We have wasted far too much time and taxpayer money, while women at the facility continue to suffer,” Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield, R-Burlington, said in a news release.
Last April, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report detailing years of sexual and physical abuse by facility guards.
“One year ago, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that the persistent pattern of sexual assault, brutality and abuses at Edna Mahan violated the constitutional rights of inmates,” state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, said in a news release. “Yet, nine months later, we still do not have an agreement on the settlement details proposed by the Justice Department. We need reforms now and we clearly cannot count on the Corrections Department to police itself.”