New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Monday announced plans to close the state’s only women's prison, citing a "long history of abusive incidents” at the facility.
Murphy in a press release from his office said that the “multi-year process” to shut down the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women will include relocating the women housed there to new facilities across the state.
The plans came along with the release of a 73-page investigative report prepared by the State Comptroller Matt Boxer and the law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP as part of an investigation into a series of violent “cell extractions” that occurred shortly before midnight on Jan. 11.
The incident, which prompted the suspension of 31 prison staff members, allegedly included officers using “excessive force, resulting in serious physical injuries to multiple inmates,” with one inmate accusing an officer of sexually assaulting her during the extractions.
The incidents included alleged force used against a transgender woman, whose mother in January said that four guards had handcuffed and beat her until her knee was broken, putting her into a wheelchair.
The report, which was partially redacted upon being released to the public, concluded that prison staff failed to “establish a proper basis for conducting forced cell extractions,” and used excessive force while extracting the inmates.
Investigators also said that custody staff filed false reports on several of the extractions and that staff failed to “prevent male viewing of inmate strip searches,” despite the fact that such a practice is recommended, according to interviews with New Jersey Department of Corrections officials.
Murphy in a statement from his office said he was “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,” the governor added. “The excessive use of force, as outlined in the report, cannot and will not be tolerated by my Administration.”
Murphy went on to say that the correctional facility “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.”
“After reading the report and its recommendations, I have decided that the only path forward is to responsibly close the facility,” he said.
“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,” he said.
The governor added that he had instructed the state’s Department of Corrections to review the recommendations included in the report so they may be implemented in new facilities, including establishing an independent oversight board and adopting body cameras and early warning systems.
The New Jersey prison before the January incidents was included in a Department of Justice (DOJ) report last April that found that guards routinely sexually assaulted prisoners or forced them to perform sexual acts with other prisoners while guards watched.
The DOJ report prompted the arrests of several guards at the women’s prison.