State officials are taking steps toward closing New Jersey’s only correctional facility for women—a prison plagued by allegations of inmate abuse as more arrests of prisons officials were announced this week.
The Department of Corrections announced Dec. 14 it has hired Steve Carter, a correctional planning and design consultant with CGL Services, to assist with relocating the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. In June, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced plans to close the Clinton facility following reports of rapes, attacks, and other alleged inmate abuse.
The contract announcement comes as the state’s Attorney General announced a new set of arrests that in an investigation into an attack earlier this year. At least 30 staff members were suspended at the prison and 15 officers have been criminally charged over inmate beatings or aiding in a coverup. Between 2016 and 2018, six correctional officers and one civilian staff member were charged with crimes relating to sexual abuse of prisoners, including sexual assault, conspiracy to commit sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, and official misconduct.
An April 2020 report by the federal Department of Justice said there was reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan failed to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff. In August 2021 the DOJ and the state Department of Corrections installed an independent monitor for the facility.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections said Dec. 14 it will use a three-phase approach to identify a new facility for Edna Mahan’s inmates.
- Aligning with internal stakeholders “on a shared vision for a purpose-driven facility that considers industry best practices, environmental and programming needs and ensures a central location for visiting families”;
- “Reviewing existing prison facilities to determine if the New Jersey Department of Corrections can retrofit infrastructure to meet the aligned vision or partner with the New Jersey Department of Treasury to identify alternative vacant facilities”; and,
- Getting input from external stakeholders, including legislators, advocacy groups, current and formerly incarcerated people and affected communities.
‘Significant Transformative Step’
New Jersey Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Victoria L. Kuhn said Carter, the consultant being brought in to help close Edna Mahan, “brings a wealth of experience creating thoughtful infrastructure designs for justice-involved women.”
“This process represents a significant transformative step forward with a clean slate that allows us to take into account the evolving needs of this generation of incarcerated women,” Kuhn said.
Said Carter: “Our evaluation of existing correctional facilities will initially examine the ability to adapt, and potentially expand, selected prisons to accommodate these needs with an eye towards an ultimate purpose-built women’s correctional center.”
More Arrests Linked to January Attack
The hiring of the consultant somes as Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced criminal charges against Department of Corrections Associate Administrator Sean St. Paul and four correctional police officers—a major and three senior officers—related to an incident in which inmates were assaulted and seriously injured at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women on Jan. 12, 2021.
Associate Administrator St. Paul was the highest-ranking DOC official at Edna Mahan on the night of the assaults, and is the highest-ranking person to be criminally charged in this investigation. St. Paul allegedly approved, ordered, and was present at the facility for forced cell extractions that were done in a manner contrary to DOC policy for the purpose of punishing inmates. He is being charged with 2nd degree official misconduct and conspiracy as well as 3rd degree tampering with public records or information.
Four other DOC employees—Major Ryan Valentin, Senior Correctional Police Officer Desiree Lewis, Senior Correctional Police Officer Brandon Burgos and Senior Correctional Police Officer Marika Sprow—had charges filed against th same day, including for aggravated assault, tampering with public records or information and official misconduct.
A total of 15 defendants have now have been charged in the ongoing criminal investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, conducted with the assistance of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) Special Investigations Division.
“We promised to follow the facts wherever they go, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck in a press statement. “We are holding accountable everyone who was involved in January’s brutal assaults, from the line officers working the cell block to the highest-ranking prison official on duty that night. With today’s charges, we are making clear that even the senior-most leadership at Edna Mahan must be held responsible for their illegal conduct.”
Gov. Murphy announced on June 7 that he planned to close Edna Mahan. The governor’s announcement coincided with the publishing of a Murphy-ordered independent investigative report of the state Department of Corrections prepared by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer and the law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP after the cell extractions at the facility that occurred on Jan. 11 that prompted criminal charges against corrections officers.
“After reading the report and its recommendations, I have decided that the only path forward is to responsibly close the facility,” said Murphy in a press statement at the time. “While this will not happen overnight, I intend to work with legislative leadership during the current budget cycle to allocate funding to begin this multi-year process.”
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