In Brief

Governor Murphy names new watchdog for state prisons

By: - May 5, 2022 10:35 am

Terry Schuster, who worked on jail reform with Pew Charitable Trusts, is Gov. Phil Murphy's choice to lead the state's prison oversight. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey is getting a new corrections ombudsperson nearly one year after the official who formerly held the post resigned over lax oversight of the state’s only women’s prison.

The post will be filled by Terry Schuster, the manager of Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Program, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday.

Terry Schuster is manager of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Program. (Courtesy of New Jersey Governor’s Office)

“Terry’s successful professional track record in securing transformational outcomes within the criminal justice and corrections fields made him a clear choice for this role,” the governor said in a statement. “I look forward to the contributions he will make to improve the lives of the people incarcerated in our state correctional facilities.”

Schuster will fill the seat once held by Dan DiBenedetti, who resigned after lawmakers learned of his office’s lax oversight of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

In January 2021, guards at the prison severely beat inmates during late-night cell extractions in violation of department policy that bars such extractions except in emergencies. Fifteen Edna Mahan guards and supervisors have been arrested over the alleged assaults.

DiBenedetti anounced his resignation in April 2021 after he fielded blistering questions during an legislative hearing. Though it became effective the following August, the post has effectively been vacant for months longer as DiBenedetti burned through unused paid time off.

“With the position being filled after a credible and deliberative process, our state can hopefully turn a new corner, fix a broken system, and provide support to inmates and correctional staff who have concerns to report confidentially,” Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) said in a statement.

The scandal at Edna Mahan also forced out then-Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks, who resigned in June 2021 after the state released an investigators’ report into the beatings.

Murphy has nominated Victoria Kuhn, Hicks’ former chief of staff, to permanently lead the department.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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