State Sen. Loretta Weinberg Pushing For Independent Advocate With Investigative Powers

New Jersey lawmakers are looking to create an independent advocate to help vulnerable populations that are under state supervision.

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), along with State Sens. Nellie Pou (D-35) and Linda Greenstein (D-14), intend to introduce legislation to create the advocate with investigative and legal power to protect the safety and rights of those in state and county correctional facilities, veterans homes, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, community-based programs and under state guardianship.

The proposed law comes in response to the failure of the Corrections Department to respond properly to Justice Department findings of sexual abuse and civil right rights violations at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, the cover-up of the January 11 assaults on women inmates, and the failure and cover-up by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs of the wave of COVID-19 deaths at the Paramus Veterans Home, according to Weinberg.

Providing Oversight

“Too often, the administrators responsible do everything they can to prevent public disclosure of the crisis or abuse,” Weinberg. “We need a truly independent public advocate to protect the most vulnerable, and we need broad-based community advisory boards at each institution to provide oversight and advocate for those who cannot effectively advocate for themselves.”

The reform bill, developed in consultation with advocates, requires the establishment of broad-based community advisory boards to provide oversight of each state and county institution, and hold quarterly public meetings with administrators to discuss issues and complaints.

Greenstein noted the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee that she chairs held hearings on the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division report on the abuses at Edna Mahan in April 2020, members couldn’t even find any record that the prison’s board of trustees had ever met.

Independent Office

“We need boards that include advocates, experts, family members, former inmates or residents, union or staff representatives, and community leaders who know what is happening in these institutions and would hold regularly scheduled public meetings with administrators to discuss issues and complaints,” Greenstein said. 

“If we had such a board at the Paramus Veterans Home, we would have known about the pandemic sweeping through the facility much sooner.”

The legislation the three senators are developing would create an independent public advocate with broad investigatory powers, including the ability to enter institutions at any time and meet with staff and inmates or residents as well as file lawsuits if corrective actions are not undertaken.

“If we had an independent public advocate in place, it is inconceivable that we would still be waiting 10 months later for the Corrections Department or the Administration to agree to a consent order with the Justice Department to implement needed reforms and put federal monitors into Edna Mahan, which Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks said he expected to be part of the settlement,” said Pou.

Twice Abolished 

The proposal comes as Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield recently filed impeachment charges against Hicks. The resolution, sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Nancy Munoz (D-21), charges Hicks with constitutional violations for failing to protect inmates at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.

Unlike the Department of the Public Advocate reporting to the governor’s office—abolished twice by governors who objected to its activities—the legislatures are working with the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to provide a bipartisan reporting structure and independence for the new agency, similar to the State Auditor or the State Commission of Investigation.

“One thing we’ve learned from past experience is that the public advocate cannot report to the governor or another Cabinet official,” said Weinberg. “The new agency must be truly independent to be effective—and to survive.”

One comment

  1. Love Loretta Weinberg……a true people person…..The other senators and congressman should take lessons in empathy from Sen. Weinberg! I would love to know that there is a department and ombudsman available for senior citizens and disabled. Paul Arohnson is our ombudsman for the segment of the disabled and truly sincere and motivated to help and represent that population. As a senior citizen, I have during this pandemic, come across some wonderful people in my hospital like my doctors and nurses at Valley hospital and some selfish, predatory,scum like people volunteering to drive seniors to doctors offices.
    case in point, I hired someone to drive me to a doctors office for clearance for surgery. I wasnt quick walking as the woman I hired sent her daughter to pick me up. When I finally got through with the exam, I went or should I say, I hobbled to downstairs on a cold icy, rainy,
    slippery day only to find the daughter gone. when I called the woman owner, she said “I cant pick you up but I will call you an uber”. by the way, this person does only senior customers and she charges $18. each way. I had to go since my car was snowed under. Bad experience. another situation was me calling the seniors assistance in bergen county and someone telling me that they would email me a list. I never got it. We need more transportation in towns. Not a bus, which I cant get up on or other seniors but a car that for a small fee drives seniors for appointments. The bus is always complained about anyway. At one point, they cut out service for one bus due to lack of riders. Hey, this is disgusting. fighting for health and life, and then coming across these “hawks” who don’t give a dam about handicapped or seniors or both! Please Loretta stay… the way, I would hope that Valerie vanieri Huttle would take Sen. Weinbergs place as Senator. I have followed her good deeds regarding going around to hospitals and checking out vulnerable people. Hey, democratic party………..wake up.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.