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Senate Law and Public Safety Committee to Take Up Edna Mahan, DOC Reform Package of Bills

TRENTON – Following on recent action taken in the Assembly, the Senate announced plans to move forward with a package of bills meant to address abuses at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility and to install reforms and accountability across the breadth of the state’s Department of Corrections.

“The long list of physical, emotional and sexual abuses endured by female inmates at Edna Mahan at the hands of those who are supposed to be responsible for their safety and well-being has been left unaddressed long enough,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer / Middlesex) and Chair of the Law and Public Safety Committee. “We need to weigh in as legislators and do our part to make sure sustained reforms are brought to bear across our state’s correctional facilities, including personnel upgrades and cultural change where necessary.”

Three bills in the package had been previously introduced in the Senate, and three more will be added to address more directly the troubles at Edna Mahan under the watch of DOC Commissioner Marcus Hicks, as well as a myriad of other issues of concern that have cropped up both before and during Hicks’ tenure.

Bills in the Senate package include:

S3286 (Senators Ruiz, Weinberg) Requires all correctional police officers who work at a correctional facility in New Jersey to wear a body worn camera (BWC) while in the performance of the officer’s duties.

“Throughout the ongoing saga at Edna Mahan it has become abundantly clear that if we are going to protect the women being held there we must increase accountability. Body-worn cameras might not be a panacea, but they can be a tool to bring about more transparency, help de-escalate potentially violent situations, and provide a credible source of evidence for inmates filing complaints,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz. “We cannot allow this to go on any longer, we must do everything in our power to protect the women of Edna Mahan.”

“When officers know their actions are being recorded, they might think twice before resorting to use of force, and may act in other ways to de-escalate conflict in what we all know is a high stress environment. The cameras can also help filter allegations from prisoners, and provide reliable evidence in legitimate cases,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg. “In the end, the introduction of BWCs into our correctional facilities will lead to more transparency and accountability all the way around.”

A5750 (Assemblyman Mukherji / Senator Addiego) Prohibits retaliation against inmates in state correctional facilities who report sexual abuse; criminalizes retaliation and failure to report abuse.

“It should not have taken an act of the Legislature to end a culture that permitted and covered up rape and abuse at Edna Mahan. This legislation sends a very strong message that women at Edna Mahan and across our state should not have to live in fear,” said Senator Dawn Addiego.

S2933 (Senator Pou) Expands eligibility for certain inmates to participate in residential community release programs; modifies DOC reporting requirements concerning capacity of these programs.

“Re-entry programs have long been effective in helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully transition back into their communities, and they are also cost-effective,” said Senator Nellie Pou. “This expansion legislation will prove especially helpful for those in need of substance abuse treatment services. Finding ways for eligible inmates to reunite with friends and loved ones and to restart their lives will be beneficial to us all.”

S2953 (1R) (Senate President Sweeney, Senators Cunningham, Pou) Expands scope of inmate reentry assistance and benefits.

A5749 (Assemblywoman Murphy / Senator Greenstein) Concerns sexual abuse investigations in State correctional facilities.

A5751 (Assemblywoman Swain / Senator Weinberg) Expands State corrections officers training to include topics contributing to their core mission of treating inmates with dignity, fairness, and respect.