- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Justice Department and New Jersey have reached a settlement on claims that the state failed to protect female inmates from being sexually abused by staff at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

If approved by the court, the DOJ says the proposed consent decree would require the state’s Department of Corrections to provide “appropriate prisoner supervision” at the facility, as well as confidential methods to report sexual abuse and protection against retaliation for such reports.

“Our agreement addresses the systemic issues that have plagued the Edna Mahan facility, ensures that women incarcerated there will receive the basic protections they are entitled to under the Constitution, and requires accountability through public transparency,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement Tuesday.

It would also mandate public meetings be held with key stakeholders, such as former inmates, prisoner advocates and families of those currently incarcerated.

An independent monitor would be appointed to “oversee and assess” the changes. DOJ and state officials say they have jointly proposed that the monitor should be Jane Parnell, a former superintendent of the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

Officials say between 2016 to 2019, five correction officers and one civilian worker were either convicted or pleaded guilty to charges linked to sexual abuse of more than 10 female inmates.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig for the District of New Jersey said Tuesday that the department‘s investigation unveiled “systemic and longstanding deficiencies in training, supervision, and reporting … that allowed the sexual abuse of prisoners to occur unabated.”

A probe by the state’s correctional department also revealed other staff members forced some female inmates to engage in “unwanted and coerced sexual penetration and oral sex; forced masturbation; and forced undressing.”

“The goal of this agreement is to ensure that this horrific conduct never happens again,” a DOJ spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said in June that he is planning to close the prison after a report released by former state comptroller Matthew Boxer detailed continuing sexual abuse at the facility.

If it is closed, a DOJ spokesperson said the consent decree would apply to any facility that is built or used to replace it, as well as any facility where an Edna Mahan inmate is transferred.

“The State of New Jersey now has agreed to remediate these deficiencies by entering into this consent decree, and we look forward to continuing to work with the State and the Department of Corrections to ensure that no prisoner faces this kind of abuse in the future, whether at Edna Mahan or any other facility that might replace it,” Ms. Honig said.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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