Feds demand that New Jersey Department of Corrections officials take action to protect prisoners from sex abuse at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women

The New Jersey Department of Corrections must implement policies and practices to protect prisoners at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women from sexual abuse by guards, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said in a complaint filed with the state this week.

A proposed consent decree, which must still be approved by the court, would resolve the federal government’s claims that the state and the New Jersey Department of Corrections have failed to protect prisoners at Edna Mahan from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff, in violation of the United States Constitution.

Under the proposed consent decree, the New Jersey Department of Corrections must implement policies and practices to ensure that prisoners are protected from sexual abuse by having appropriate prisoner supervision, effective and confidential methods for the reporting of sexual abuse, and protections against retaliation for reporting sexual abuse. The proposed consent decree includes improved measures to ensure staff members are held accountable for misconduct. It also requires greater transparency through public meetings with stakeholders, including former Edna Mahan prisoners, prisoner advocates, and family members of current Edna Mahan prisoners. The proposed consent decree also appoints an independent monitor who will oversee and assess the state’s compliance with the terms of the proposed agreement. If the state of New Jersey closes Edna Mahan, the consent decree applies to any facility that replaces the prison.

“Our civil rights investigation revealed systemic and long-standing deficiencies in training, supervision, and reporting at Edna Mahan, deficiencies that allowed the sexual abuse of prisoners to occur unabated,” Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig said. “The State of New Jersey now has agreed to remediate these deficiencies by entering into this consent decree, and we look forward to continuing to work with the state and the Department of Corrections to ensure that no prisoner faces this kind of abuse in the future, whether at Edna Mahan or any other facility that might replace it.”

In January, at least two women were seriously injured by guards at the facility in Clinton, which is located in Hunterdon County about 35 miles from Princeton. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that found multiple violations of inmates’ civil rights at the prison, including sexual assaults by guards at the facility.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of New Jersey and the Civil Rights Division initiated an investigation in April 2018 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which authorizes the Department of Justice to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of people confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities. In April of 2020, the Department of Justice provided the state written notice of the alleged unlawful conditions and remedial measures necessary to address them. The department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan officials violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution by failing to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by staff members.

“Every prisoner deserves to be safe from sexual assault and other forms of sexual abuse by staff, and to be protected from retaliation for reporting abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our agreement addresses the systemic issues that have plagued the Edna Mahan facility, ensures that women incarcerated there will receive the basic protections they are entitled to under the Constitution, and requires accountability through public transparency. We will keep working to protect the civil rights, safety, and human dignity of all prisoners held inside our jails and prisons, including women prisoners, many of whom have suffered physical and sexual abuse before their incarceration.”

Anyone with information relevant to the federal investigation of Edna Mahan is encouraged to contact the U.S. Department of Justice via email at Community.EdnaMahan@usdoj.gov or by phone at 833-341-4675. You can also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters using the Civil Rights Division’s reporting portal, available at www.civilrights.justice.gov.