Governor’s Halloween treat: Edna Mahan Correctional Facility prison break

As New Jersey kids began trick-or-treating around the state, law enforcement officials were looking for a 40-year-old female inmate who escaped from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, where federal officials slammed Governor Phil Murphy over his administration’s years of inaction on sexual abuse of inmates.

Jessica C. Graham, 40, was reported missing from the minimum security unit at the prison earlier Sunday, said the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, which alerted the media at about 2:30 p.m.

The Town of Clinton Police tweeted shortly after 7 p.m. that they’d arrested Graham near a restaurant in their town, and returned her to state prison authorities.

Graham was sentenced on June 16, 2021 to five years for a Union County criminal mischief offense on November 24, 2018, and the Staten Island woman would have been eligible for parole on February 28, 2022.

Multiple law enforcement agencies searched for hours Sunday for the inmate before she was apprehended by Clinton police and the Department of Corrections’ special operations group at a local gas station.

The prison discovered Graham was missing during a routine population count.

The minimum security unit is separate from the maximum security part of the prison and houses prisoners nearing release.

Eligibility to be placed in the unit includes no history of institutional violence, the corrections department explained.

Graham was spotted near exit 13 on Interstate 78, about a mile north of the prison, the prosecutor’s office said when it announced her escape.

New Jersey’s only women’s prison has repeatedly made headlines the past few years due to numerous rapes, attacks and other alleged abuse of inmates.

Several corrections officers have been criminally charged with sex crimes and other misconduct. Ten correctional police officers were charged in June for allegedly beating prisoners at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.

A new report concluded that New Jersey leaders repeatedly failed to enact reforms and were often ignorant of their own policies and the violent histories of prison staff, which set the stage for officers to severely beat several women at the facility in January.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey filed a complaint and a proposed consent decree with the State of New Jersey and New Jersey Department of Corrections concerning the facility in August.

Under the consent decree, the New Jersey Department of Corrections will, among other things, 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.

The consent decree included 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, convict advocates, and family members of current inmates.

It also appoints an independent monitor who will oversee and assess the state’s compliance with the terms of the proposed consent decree.

Murphy said he intends to close Edna Mahan, but the federal consent decree applies to any facility that replaces the women’s prison.

Two days before voters go to the polls to decide if Murphy deserves a second term, the incident is a reminder that he has failed to provide real leadership for women, including the abuses at the prison, his hiring an alleged rapist who worked on his 2017 campaign, and several accusations that he created a ‘toxic workplace for women.”

Murphy is expected to easily defeat Republican Jack Ciattarelli and three other challengers, but he is heavily relying on female voters to do that.

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