Sex Abuse Is Rampant At Women’s Prison, Federal Inquiry Finds. Officials Failed To Stop It For Decades.
New Jersey’s women’s prison is rife with sex abuse of inmates by staff that has persisted for decades, according to a scathing report from the U.S. Justice Department released Monday.
Federal investigators described instances of corrections officers coercing prisoners at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County into sexual acts, groping them during strip searches and “routinely” demeaning them as “bitches,” “hoes” and other slurs.
The conditions violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, according to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.
The federal findings are the latest development in a years-long effort to curb the abuse and exploitation of prisoners by staff. Seven staff members in recent years have been convicted of sexually abusing inmates, and investigations into still more cases are ongoing.
Yet women at Edna Mahan continue to be raped and harassed to this day, the inquiry found.
“Indeed, credible allegations of sexual abuse by both correction officers and civilian staff continued to surface throughout 2018 and into 2019, despite the attention focused on the issue,” the report said.
“(The Department of Corrections) and Edna Mahan have been aware that their women prisoners face a substantial risk of serious harm from sexual abuse, and they have failed to remedy this constitutional violation.”
Spokespeople for Gov. Phil Murphy and Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Carpenito said in a statement Monday that his office was “encouraged by the state’s cooperation throughout our investigation, and stated commitment to ending sexual abuse at Edna Mahan.”
But the report found state authorities’ efforts to fix the problems had failed and now New Jersey faces a potential federal lawsuit if more than a dozen “minimal remedial measures” are not met.
Among dozens of examples of disturbing behavior by sworn law enforcement officers, the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department and New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney’s Office found “male correction officers make efforts to watch prisoners as they shower, undress, or use restrooms.”