DOJ alleges sexual abuse at women's state prison

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Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (Google Maps)
Urban News Staff Reports

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey recently concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (Edna Mahan) in Clinton, New Jersey violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. 

Specifically, the department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff.

As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the facility with written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them. 

“The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees prisoners reasonable safety from harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Sexual abuse should not be a part of any prisoner’s punishment. Our investigation found reasonable cause to conclude that women prisoners at Edna Mahan are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.” 

“Sexual abuse cannot be tolerated in any setting, including in prisons and jails,” said U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito. “We have been encouraged by the State’s cooperation throughout our investigation, and stated commitment to ending sexual abuse at Edna Mahan.  We hope to continue to work with New Jersey to resolve these significant concerns.”

The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of New Jersey initiated the investigation in April 2018 under CRIPA, which authorizes the department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.

Last year, the state legislature passed the Dignity Act, which made substantial improvements to the Office of the Ombudsman for Corrections allowing it to serve as an independent and unbiased advocate for those who are incarcerated, and monitor allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

“No inmate should face sexual abuse in prison under any circumstances, particularly at the hands of the correctional officers who are supposed to keep them safe,"  Assemblywomen Yvonne Lopez and Valerie Vainieri Huttle said in a joint statement. "Unfortunately, the federal report details that some officers at Edna Mahan used their authority to abuse women and pressure them into not reporting the incidents. This report confirms what we already feared."

In response to the allegations, the state's Department of Corrections (DOC) said the alleged sexual abuse happened during the previous administration, according to reports. A spokesperson for the department said the DOC "remains committed to ensuring the safety of all those in its care, and, in service of that goal, continues to regularly monitor and evaluate its operations, programs and services."

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