Governor Murphy wants $90M to replace scandal-plagued women’s prison
Officials say the money would allow the state to construct a new 434-bed prison to replace the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. (Photo by Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)
As the closure of the state’s embattled women’s prison looms, Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed a $90 million budget allocation for a new facility in an unknown location.
The Department of Corrections said during a press conference Friday the appropriation would allow the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility to close and state officials to construct a new 434-bed facility to replace it.
“This is not just a step in the right direction, this is a quantum leap in the right direction. This is dignity for our female population. This is correcting decades of being the forgotten population in deteriorating conditions,” said Victoria Kuhn, the state’s corrections commissioner.
She said the new facility will be created with the intent to increase visits and give people housed there access to more resources, activities, and volunteers, creating a rehabilitative environment.
Officials did not provide a timeline for when the new facility would open and said a report would be available with more details on its website “in the future.”
In 2021, Murphy announced the prison, located in Hunterdon County, would close after years of allegations of sexual abuse of the women inmates and misconduct among staffers. That news came months after NJ Advance Media reported on an alleged premeditated attack in which guards violently extracted inmates from their cells. More than 30 employees were suspended, and inmates reported being groped and assaulted.
The transition of inmates out of the prison has already begun, with people being moved to a satellite location at the William H. Fauver Youth Correctional Facility in Clinton.
Jane Parnell, the federal monitor assigned to oversee reforms at Edna Mahan pursuant to a judicial order, on Friday touted the changes made to the facility. Parnell said it’s a safer place than when she arrived 18 months ago but added there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, Parnell is responsible for shaping reforms to address years of systemic abuse, releasing regular reports on the status of the prison and changes being made, and making unannounced visits to the facility.
Among the improvements reported Friday:
- There has been a major drop in reports of sexual assaults or sexual harassment. Between Aug. 25 and Feb. 24, inmates reported 22 allegations of sexual assault or harassment from staff, which averages to four allegations per month. In the same period between 2021 and 2022, there were 70 allegations of sexual assault or harassment from staff, averaging 12 each month.
- Prison workers who interact with incarcerated people have access to 190 body-worn cameras.
- Official upgraded the video surveillance system, which now has 350 cameras and 700 views, in addition to multiple viewing stations. A supervisor reviews 20 hours of fixed camera footage and eight hours of body camera footage each month.
- The recruitment process has improved to increase the number of women applicants to work as corrections staff.
Murphy announced his $53.1 billion budget Tuesday, and it’s now in the hands of lawmakers. It must be approved before July 1.
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