Federal authorities said that the administration of Democratic Governor Phil Murphy allowed sexual abuse of female prisoners to occur unabated but a court order will protect women in New Jersey correctional facilities.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division today filed a complaint and a proposed consent decree with the state of New Jersey and New Jersey Department of Corrections concerning the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.
The proposed consent decree, which must still be approved by the court, would resolve the United States’ claims that the state and the Department of Corrections fails to protect prisoners at Edna Mahan from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff in violation of the United States Constitution.
Under the proposed consent decree, the New Jersey Department of Corrections will implement policies and practices to ensure that prisoners are protected from harm due to sexual abuse through appropriate prisoner supervision; effective and confidential methods for reporting of sexual abuse; and protections against retaliation for reporting sexual abuse.
Murphy refused to fire Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, even after he squirmed in his seat as horrified legislators grilled him over the unchecked rapes and assaults at the state’s only prison for women.
Lawmakers demanded that Murphy fire Hicks after a January 11, midnight raid of a cell block by guards in body armor who beat and stomped several women, leaving one in a wheelchair, and another with a broken eye socket.
One of those inmates claimed that she was handcuffed to the bars of her cell and digitally raped.
At least eight guards were charged with assault, with 22 suspended, along with nine supervisors.
The previous year, the federal Department of Justice issued a 30-page report that concluded: “Sexual abuse of women prisoners by Edna Mahan corrections officers and staff is severe and prevalent throughout the prison.”
The vile civil rights violations struck a sharp nerve but for the most part media outlets and the political establishment have given former Wall Street millionaire Murphy a pass on his inaction.
Murphy has not been called to account for hiring a rapist or creating a toxic work environment for women, either.
The proposed consent decree includes improved measures to ensure staff are held accountable for misconduct.
It also requires greater transparency through public meetings with stakeholders, including former Edna Mahan prisoners, prisoner advocates, and family members of current Edna Mahan prisoners.
The proposed consent decree also appoints an independent monitor who will oversee and assess the state’s compliance with the terms of the proposed consent decree.
If the state of New Jersey closes Edna Mahan, the consent decree applies to any facility that replaces the prison.
“Our civil rights investigation revealed systemic and long-standing deficiencies in training, supervision, and reporting at Edna Mahan, deficiencies that allowed the sexual abuse of prisoners to occur unabated,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig.
“The state of New Jersey now has agreed to remediate these deficiencies by entering into this consent decree, and we look forward to continuing to work with the state and the Department of Corrections to ensure that no prisoner faces this kind of abuse in the future, whether at Edna Mahan or any other facility that might replace it,” said Honig.
“Every prisoner deserves to be safe from sexual assault and other forms of sexual abuse by staff, and to be protected from retaliation for reporting abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Our agreement addresses the systemic issues that have plagued the Edna Mahan facility, ensures that women incarcerated there will receive the basic protections they are entitled to under the Constitution, and requires accountability through public transparency," said Clarke. "We will keep working to protect the civil rights, safety and human dignity of all prisoners held inside our jails and prisons, including women prisoners, many of whom have suffered physical and sexual abuse before their incarceration.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of New Jersey and the Civil Rights Division initiated the investigation in April 2018 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which authorizes the Department of Justice to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.
In April 2020, the Department of Justice provided the state written notice of the alleged unlawful conditions and remedial measures necessary to address them.
The department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution by failing to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by staff.
The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael E. Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Unit; Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Horan Florio, Civil Rights Unit; Kerry Krentler Dean, Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section; and Helen Vera, Trial Attorney, Special Litigation Section.
Individuals with information relevant to Department’s investigation of Edna Mahan are encouraged to contact the Department of Justice via email at Community.EdnaMahan or by phone at 833-341-4675.
Individuals can also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters using the Civil Rights Division’s reporting portal, available at www.civilrights.justice.gov.
To learn more about civil rights enforcement at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey, additional information is available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement.
Copies of the complaint and proposed agreement may be found online at