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The history of rampant sexual abuse inside New Jersey state prisons, particularly the notorious Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, may finally be subject to positive and effective change in prisoners’ rights. 

A federal investigation into that facility by the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) was launched in 2018 after persistent complaints of sexual abuse, and a slew of new legislation is attempting to curb it. 

Last month, the New Jersey Assembly overwhelmingly approved five bills aimed at improving conditions at Edna Mahan and other facilities. The bills, which still need to pass the state Senate and Gov. Murphy to become law, require:

  • Every correction officer (C.O.) to wear a body camera
  • Officers to receive more training (two of the bills)
  • Criminalizing both failure to report abuse and retaliating against those who do
  • Easier access to halfway houses
  • Possible on-site monitor at Edna Mahan

The legislation comes several months after a January 2021 incident at Edna Mahan in which several women were brutally removed from their cells. One inmate’s eye socket was broken and the other, a transgender woman, sustained such harsh injuries that she now uses a wheelchair. Ten correction officers were charged with misconduct or assault, and 20 more are suspended with pay. The planned installation of security cameras was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and is not yet complete.  

The new bills also come more than a year after a DOJ report was released in April 2020. Despite the installment of a zero-tolerance sexual contact policy, several abuse convictions, and other efforts, prisoner abuse has been allowed to continue. 

The investigation, assisted by the New Jersey state district attorney, found that the disturbing “pattern” of Edna Mahan’s sexual abuse incidents over the years is a violation of the eighth amendment, which guarantees safety for prisoners. It also found substantial evidence that prison staff routinely covered up the abuse. Shortly after the investigation concluded, nearly 40 employees were suspended, and five officers were charged for sexual abuse. The report concluded that Edna Mahan failed to keep its inmates safe from sexual abuse by staff, citing 70 incidents over many years. Multiple lawsuits and convictions have come out of Edna Mahan over several decades.

Prison Sexual Abuse Around the U.S.

Steps toward accountability and change pale in comparison to the sheer amount and regularity of sexual abuse still found in facilities nationwide – abuse that is considered a “normal” part of prison culture by inmates and staff alike.

A U.S. system designed for rehabilitation has continuously kept its 2.3 million inmates from achieving the changes necessary for successful reentry into the world. Incarcerated women are an astounding 30 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than men. Daring to report these acts often results in physical retaliation or unwarranted solitary confinement. 

Typical incidents include not only rape but being groped during searches, watched while showering, being bribed for sex with restricted items, and countless others.

Advocates of prison rights hope that the new bills will be a genuine step toward actual change, rather than just more “officer training” and empty promises that won’t amount to anything. 

Seeking justice for sexual abuse is unfortunately not always a straightforward process for regular citizens, and prisoners may find it even more difficult or impossible to file a successful claim. Qualified legal representation is essential if you or a loved one have been sexually abused. D’Arcy Johnson Day is highly experienced in New Jersey sexual abuse cases. For more information or a free consultation, call us at 609-641-6200 or contact us online.

See Our Full Legal Guide to Sexual Abuse

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