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Senate Acts To Prevent Sexual Assaults & Abuse At Woman’s Prison

Approves Two More Reform Bills Sponsored By Cryan & Greenstein

TRENTON – Continuing a multi-faceted reform effort to prevent sexual assaults and the abuse of female inmates, the Senate today approved two additional bills sponsored by Senator Joe Cryan and Senator Linda Greenstein that would set strict limits on cross-gender strip searches by prison guards and establish reporting requirements for corrections officers in cases of suspected abuse.

“Sexual assault by prison guards is a despicable abuse of power by those who have a sworn duty to the law,” said Senator Cryan, who previously served as Sheriff of Union County. “This is predatory behavior that exploits the vulnerabilities of those who are confined with little ability to defend themselves. It should not be allowed, it should not be ignored and it should not be excused.”

“This has been a stain on the reputation of New Jersey’s corrections facilities,” said Senator Greenstein. “The abuses were bad enough, but the failure to put them to an end and to hold the offenders accountable for so long shows that the system needs to be reformed. Victims should not be afraid to report these crimes and when they do, they should be taken seriously.”

The bills were drafted following a public hearing by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee and the disclosure that the abuses were far graver than corrections officials had publicly acknowledged and continued after complaints were made. The repeated incidents resulted in criminal charges against seven people so far and are the subject of state and federal investigations as well as criminal and civil lawsuits.

One of the bills, S-2522, would require the Commissioner of Corrections to establish a policy strictly limiting cross gender searches and surveillance in the state’s correctional facilities. The policy would require a strip or body cavity search of an inmate to be conducted by an officer of the same gender who is specially trained to conduct these searches with exceptions limited to emergency circumstances. The Senate vote was 38-0.

The other measure, S-2521, would require the reporting of inmate abuse by corrections workers and would create a reporting and investigation program. Any employee who has reasonable cause to suspect that an inmate is being or has been abused by another worker would be required to report it. The bill would also establish an inmate abuse reporting program for state correctional facilities. The Senate vote was 38-0.

Today’s action follows previous Senate approval of three other previously approved bills that would require at least four hours of training on sexual assault, abuse, and non-fraternization, have the State Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy ensure the rights of female inmates who are victimized, and create a commission to study the problem of sexual abuse behind bars and recommend additional reforms.