The calls to replace New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks continue to intensify in Trenton.
A group of bipartisan legislators are supporting articles of impeachment put forth by Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (D-8) and sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Nancy Munoz (D-21). The resolution charges Hicks with constitutional violations for failing to protect inmates at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.
“The women…have been silenced for far too long while enduring unspeakable pain and suffering at the hands of corrections officers who were sworn to protect them,” Stanfield said in a press statement. “The women leaders of New Jersey will not back down on this issue until Commissioner Hicks is gone and new leadership can begin the healing that this administration has spectacularly failed at.”
The articles of impeachment state Hicks failed to take reasonable measures to protect inmates from sexual abuse, considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that he is responsible for violating the inmates’ civil rights.
Joining Stanfield, Huttle and Munoz in support of the articles of impeachment are Assemblywomen Shanique Speight (D-29), Britnee Timberlake (D-34), Aura Dunn (R-25), Holly Schepisi (R-39), BettyLou DeCroce (R-26), Serena DiMaso (R-13), and DiAnne Gove (R-9) as well as State Sens. Kristin Corrado (R-40) and Sandra Cunningham (D-31).
“Prisoners are still people. We as a state must take a leadership role in ensuring dignity and safety for everyone, including those who are incarcerated,” Huttle said. “We have called for the resignation of Commissioner Hicks and this resolution aims to bring accountability to the DOC. Regardless, reforms are still sorely needed to address the systemic abuse within our system.”
Three correctional officers were recently charged by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal with official misconduct and accused of other crimes by the state attorney general’s office after female inmates at the prison said they were severely beaten by staff on Jan. 11.
According to corrections and union officials, about 30 officers were placed on paid administrative leave after the allegations of abuse. Besides the criminal investigation being handled by Grewal’s office that is still ongoing, Gov. Phil Murphy named former State Comptroller Matt Boxer to perform an independent investigation that will make recommendations to prevent incidents “like it from ever happening again.”
“It’s Time to Act”
But Stanfield maintains the time to wait for the results of an investigation are unnecessary, having already seen prior investigations detailing the atrocities at Edna Mahan that has failed to change the culture towards women prisoners.
“It’s time to act. We cannot wait for this administration to conduct another investigation before he’s ready to make the right decision,” said the former Burlington County Sheriff. “Women have been sexually assaulted and beaten within an inch of their lives, and prison guards have been charged and convicted on multiple occasions for the crimes they committed at the correctional facility.”
State Sen. Corrado voiced her strong support for the impeachment resolution, opining that Hicks has either been reluctant or incapable of rectifying rampant problems within his department
Backing of Corrado
“It’s clear he is not up to the task. It is time for him to move on,” said Corrado. “The longer Hicks retains his post, the more the department of correction’s image is tarnished.”
The State Senator listed such transgressions as allegations by federal investigators of constitutional rights violations within the prison system, numerous reports of widespread sexual and physical attacks, and the failure to control the spread of the coronavirus inside facilities, resulting in unnecessary deaths under Hick’s watch as reasons for his dismissal.
“The Governor has refused to take action, even after recent news of criminal charges filed by the attorney general related to the brutal abuse of inmates at the women’s facility in Clinton,” Corrado continued. “It looks like it’s up to the Legislature to do the right thing and show Hicks the door.”
Corrado believes it is important for New Jersey residents to see the Legislature stand as one on this issue to condemn the alleged abuse of power.
“The entire Senate Democratic Caucus signed a letter to Murphy calling for Hicks to be fired,” Corrado said. “Both sides of the aisle in Trenton can agree that there is no excuse for inaction when the reports and evidence are so damning. It is time we do something about it.”