New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy plans to close the state’s only women’s prison, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF) in Clinton, NJ. Murphy said violent attacks on female inmates for several years, including an incident earlier this year, led to the decision.
Between Jan. 11 and 12, Department of Corrections (DOC) officers and supervisors assigned to EMCF conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit complex where 21 inmates were housed. It’s alleged that the officers pepper-sprayed and brutally beat the female victims. One officer allegedly punched and struck one victim 28 times.
This week, an investigative report about the incident prepared by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer and the law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP on cell extractions was released. It was determined the DOC officers used unauthorized force.
State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal charged former DOC officers Luis Garcia, Amir Bethea and Anthony Valvano in February for their alleged roles in the incident. Charges include aggravated assault, official misconduct and tampering with public records and information.
“After learning about the violent attacks that took place on January 11 at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, I ordered an independent investigation to determine what happened, how it happened, and to ensure a situation like this never occurs again in our correctional facilities.” Murphy said. “Individuals in state custody deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and the officers involved in this incident, both directly and indirectly, abused their power to send a message that they were in charge.”
Recommendations for the prison include establishing independent oversight, clarifying authorization protocols for cell extractions and accelerating the implementation and adoption of body-worn cameras. Murphy is directing the DOC to review the recommendations with the goal of implementing them as soon as possible.
EMCF is a mixed security prison that opened in 1913. The facility currently holds over 375 inmates. Reports of sexual and physical abuse at the prison date back almost 30 years. In 2020, a U.S. Justice Department investigation determined that reports of sexual abuse at the prison violated the inmates constitutional rights.
“Sexual abuse cannot be tolerated in any setting, including in prisons and jails,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said. “We have been encouraged by the State’s cooperation throughout our investigation, and stated commitment to ending sexual abuse at Edna Mahan. We hope to continue to work with New Jersey to resolve these significant concerns.”
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said Murphy made the right decision in closing EMCF and that new leadership is needed in the DOC calling for the commissioner to resign.
“Let us be clear, closing a correctional facility is one thing, but greater and more lasting reforms are needed, including updated camera protocols,” Weinberg said. “We also need an independent public advocate to protect our most vulnerable citizens whether in state custody or state care, and an overall change of culture at the DOC. That change must start at the top, with the immediate resignation of Commissioner Marcus Hicks,”