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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that the state would close its only women’s prison following an investigation into abuses at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women that went on for years.
The governor’s decision comes following the release of a report written by the law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP detailing a particularly violent attack on women at the detention center in January, when correctional officers and supervisors were accused of beating several women.
Women incarcerated at the detention center said that shortly before midnight on January 11, correctional officers forcibly removed them from their cells. They said that officers used excessive force, which resulted in physical injuries to multiple people, and at least one woman said she was sexually assaulted by an officer.
New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal charged 10 correctional officers in connection with the attack. One officer is accused of punching a woman in the face 28 times, and supervisors are accused of covering it up.
“I am deeply disturbed and disgusted by the horrific attacks that took place on January 11. Individuals in state custody deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and the officers involved in this incident, both directly and indirectly, abused their power to send a message that they were in charge,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement Monday. The governor added, “Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women has a long history of abusive incidents predating our Administration, and we must now commit ourselves to completely breaking this pattern of misconduct to better serve incarcerated women entrusted to the State’s care.”
Murphy announced plans to relocate the nearly 400 women incarcerated at Edna Mahan in order to permanently close the facility, though it remains unclear where they will go. Prisoners’ rights advocates were divided on the plan. Nafeesah A. Goldsmith, chair of New Jersey Prison Justice Watch, told NPR that while she supports the prison’s closure, relocating women incarcerated there isn’t enough and will not put an end to abuses against women in prison. “You’ve got to change the culture,” she said. “Not a change of scenery.”
Bonnie Kerness, a program director with the American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch, who is in frequent communication with women at the facility told The New York Times, “Wouldn’t it be more logical to punish the abusers and continue the work on reform of the organizational culture?” Kerness added, “The beatings were a condition of confinement having nothing to do with the physical structure.”
Oliver Barry is an attorney representing 22 currently and formerly incarcerated women at Edna Mahan who accused correctional officers of abuses, including sexual violence. Barry said a $20.8 million settlement had been reached with the state.
“It is good to see that it appears the administration is confronting these issues that have been present at Edna Mahan,” Barry said Monday. “It is equally important that those [suggested reforms] are now implemented wherever the ultimate landing spot for the female incarcerated population of New Jersey ends up being.”
Refinery29 reached out to the New Jersey State’s Attorney’s Office for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
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