The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) will pay nearly $21 million to settle 22 civil suits filed against it regarding sexual abuse and harassment at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (EMCFW).
Its an agreement that North Jersey politicians including State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Nellie Pou (D-35) as well as Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) want more answers to.
The settlement was reached during mediation and resolves both individual claims made by those who claim to have been sexually abused or harassed, and a class of all inmates assigned to the facility since Jan. 1, 2014.
In total, two class action complaints and 20 individual complaints were settled via the action.
Additionally, NJDOC will require a system of body cameras to be worn by staff who regularly interact with inmates at EMCFW. The program is expected to help ensure safety and well-being of female inmates at EMCFW.
“As the department seeks resolution on this matter, which covers claims from inmates at EMCFW from 2014-present, this administration, under my leadership, reaffirms its commitment to operating safe and humane facilities,” said NJDOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks.
Justice Department Intervention
The next steps in the settlement process are to file a motion for court approval of the settlement and the issuance of notice of the settlement to class members.
As a result of the issues at Edna, Hicks disclosed in testimony to the Assembly’s Women and Children as well as the Judiciary committee, the U.S. Justice Department will likely begin monitoring the state’s only women’s facility soon in the next coming weeks.
After news broke that EMCFW reached a settlement agreement, New Jersey legislators demanded more answers. Specifically, they noted the Senate had already “took the unprecedented step of voting unanimously to request Hicks’ removal in the wake of a brutal assault on women inmates at Edna Mahan” on Jan. 11.
Response from New Jersey Legislators
Weinberg and Pau were joined by their Senate colleagues Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Dawn Addiego (D-8) in demanding more information regarding the settlement and the charges that led to it.
“The administration’s need to pay $21 million to settle civil lawsuits stemming from sexual assaults, beatings, brutality and misconduct by corrections officers at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women from 2014 to the present is just further evidence of an institution in crisis where a culture of abuse has been allowed to fester for years,” said State Sen. Weinberg.
State Sen. Pau added, “One year ago, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that the persistent pattern of sexual assault, brutality and abuses at Edna Mahan violated the constitutional rights of inmates. Yet, nine months later, we still do not have an agreement on the settlement details proposed by the Justice Department. We need reforms now and we clearly cannot count on the Corrections Department to police itself.”
Vainieri Huttle commented on that the agreement leaves a trail of unanswered questions.
Call for Resignation
“For years, I have fought for improved transparency and protections at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. Together with Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-19), I have authored landmark laws to ensure that instances of abuse are investigated and that inmates are treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
Vainieri Huttle reiterated her called for the resignation of Hicks, who the Assembly has begun impeachments proceedings against.
“I renew my call for the resignation of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, I am also calling for the release of details on the $21 million settlements reached with current and former inmates,” said the Assemblywoman. “The settlement is evidence of the systemic abuses at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, it is also evidence of the need for improved leadership and accountability at the facility.”