Senators renew call for resignation or removal of Corrections Commissioner Hicks
Trenton – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senators Linda Greenstein, Nellie Pou and Dawn Addiego today demanded the release of details on the $21 million in settlements reached with current or former inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women who filed civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault, beatings and abuse at the state women’s prison.
“The Administration’s need to pay $21 million to settle civil lawsuits stemming from sexual assaults, beatings, brutality and misconduct by corrections officers at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women from 2014 to the present is just further evidence of an institution in crisis where a culture of abuse has been allowed to fester for years,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We are anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation commissioned by the Governor’s Office. This large settlement looks like it could be the first result.”
The four women senators asked the Administration to immediately provide a breakdown of the civil lawsuits settled, copies of the complaints, when they were filed, which officers in the various lawsuits and whether disciplinary actions were taken, and whether the settlements included non-disclosure agreements that would prevent the complainants from speaking out about the abuses they suffered.
“This unprecedented settlement is just further proof that a change in leadership is needed at the Department of Corrections to change the culture at Edna Mahan. Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks needs to resign or be fired,” said Senator Addiego (D-Burlington/Camden/Atlantic).
The Democratic senators noted that the full Senate took the unprecedented step of voting unanimously to request Hicks’ removal in the wake of a brutal assault on women inmates at Edna Mahan on January 11 that led to the suspension of 31 officers, including the acting superintendent of the prison; seven officers have been indicted. The Senate also called for the Governor to transfer women inmates from Edna Mahan to a safe facility, which has not occurred.
“This taxpayer-funded settlement shows the need for permanent reform to protect the inmates of Edna Mahan and other vulnerable populations under the supervision of the State,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer), chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “The best way to accomplish that is by creating an independent public advocate, as we have proposed.”
The senators also questioned the timing of the resolution of the 22 civil lawsuits, which was reported by the Star-Ledger/NJ.com on the eve of Hicks’ appearance before a joint hearing of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Women and Children Committee to discuss the abuses at Edna Mahan.
“One year ago, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that the persistent pattern of sexual assault, brutality and abuses at Edna Mahan violated the constitutional rights of inmates,” Senator Pou (D-Passaic) pointed out. “Yet, nine months later, we still do not have an agreement on the settlement details proposed by the Justice Department. We need reforms now and we clearly cannot count on the Corrections Department to police itself.”