New Jersey State Prison in Trenton (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
Gov. Phil Murphy nominated acting Corrections Commissioner Victoria Kuhn to permanently head the Department of Corrections Thursday.
Kuhn, who was chief of staff to former Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, has held the position an acting basis since Hicks resigned in June over severe inmate beatings at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison.
“Since Victoria was first asked to lead the Department of Corrections, she has impressed myself and many others with her dedication to reform and integrity,” Murphy said in a statement. “As a career corrections staffer, Victoria has the experience and knowledge to lead the department during this pivotal time. I look forward to her confirmation by the Senate and to continuing our prison reform efforts together.”
After Hicks’ resignation, Murphy promised to conduct a national search for his replacement. His statement made no mention of that search.
The former commissioner’s departure followed an independent report by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer that found numerous leadership and communication breakdowns that left officials ignorant of abuses conducted by Edna Mahan personnel.
Fifteen guards and supervisors, including the top official present at Edna Mahan during a series of violent cell extractions on Jan. 11, 2021, have been criminally charged over the incidents. In August, the state reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to implement a series of reforms at the prison, which Murphy has said will close.
Kuhn, a former director of the Corrections Department’s Equal Employment Division, could face a rocky path to confirmation.
She lives in Gloucester County, meaning Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) can block her nomination unilaterally and indefinitely by invoking senatorial courtesy.
“I do not take this honor — or responsibility — lightly,” Kuhn said in a statement. “This is the time for new beginnings — to launch new reform and reintegration initiatives, to ensure dignity and safety for our female offenders, and to establish mission-critical relationships with outside stakeholders and advocates.”
It’s possible Republicans and some Democrats may not support Kuhn’s nomination: Every member of the Senate majority caucus called on Hicks to resign last year and may be hesitant to elevate his former deputy. But she has the backing of some advocates, like Prison Watch Program Director Bonnie Kerness.
This week Murphy, who will begin his second term next week, renominated Tahesha Way as New Jersey secretary of state and Rachel Wainer Apter to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Wainer Apter’s initial nomination to the court stalled because she did not have the support of Sen. Holly Schepisi, a Republican who represents Wainer Apter’s home county of Bergen.
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