Hicks forced out as NJ prisons chief, after report on Edna Mahan
TRENTON – Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks is resigning effective next Friday, forced out a day after an independent report detailed the series of problems leading to the violent cell extractions in which multiple inmates were seriously injured at New Jersey’s women’s prison in January.
Lawmakers have been demanding Hicks’ ouster for months, as the Jan. 11 violence follows years of chronic problems with sexual and physical abuse at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women that didn’t begin under Hicks – but also weren’t fixed by him.
Hicks had rebuffed those requests, saying he felt confident he was able to institute the reforms he said were underway. But now he will leave, effective June 18.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to have served the Murphy administration and the people of New Jersey as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections for the past three years,” Hicks said in a statement. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done and wish our staff and individuals under our care well as the department continues its mission to ensure safety and promote rehabilitation.”
Victoria Kuhn, an attorney who is currently the chief of staff in the Department of Corrections, will serve as the acting commissioner.
The independent report commissioned after the January incident found that officers at Edna Mahan didn’t follow protocols for cell extractions, including not properly videotaping the event. It also found that the troubled prison had been left without a person in charge from late October through January – and that the person Hicks says was the acting administrator was never actually put in that capacity.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that he intends to close the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, a process that will probably take a few years.
Lawmakers said they supported that decision but that more reform steps will also be needed. The Senate had approved a resolution calling for Hicks' removal, and articles of impeachment had been introduced in the Senate and Assembly but were never acted upon.
"With the commissioner’s announcement, New Jersey will be able to turn the page on the deeply disturbing culture of systemic abuse and violence that has pervaded Edna Mahan’s history," said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.
“I would like to thank Commissioner Hicks for making the right decision, on behalf of the Department of Corrections, on behalf of the women inmates at Edna Mahan prison, and on behalf of the people of New Jersey,” said Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. "“Now we can begin the long overdue process of safeguarding the women at Edna Mahan, who have been forced all too often to suffer untold verbal and sexual abuse and unwarranted violence over this long period of time."
“The resignation of Commissioner Hicks only addresses half of the leadership failure in the Murphy administration that allowed the abuses and sexual assaults at Edna Mahan to continue for too long," said Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic.
“The removal of Commissioner Hicks is both overdue and welcome. A change of leadership is imperative, but this is not the end of the process," said Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, chairwoman of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
“The governor’s decision to replace Marcus Hicks as corrections commissioner is long overdue; it comes almost five months after the inexcusable assaults at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women that occurred on Hicks’ watch,” said Sen. Dawn Addiego, D-Burlington.
“Hicks’ departure will not solve the systemic problems within the Department of Corrections, but it is a necessary first step. Today’s news is long overdue. It should have happened a year ago," said Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, who said Hicks should have been replaced for the NJDOC's handling of the pandemic.
“Yesterday’s report was a truly disturbing look into the many failings of a system that allowed the women in its care to be assaulted and degraded by guards," said three Assembly Democrats in a joint statement: Gabriela Mosquera, D-Gloucester, Lisa Swain, D-Bergen, and Angela McKnight, D-Hudson. "This incriminating investigation highlighted significant issues in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility that were ignored by those in a position of power to prevent and combat these problems. The Commissioner’s resignation is necessary to usher in new leadership that can help prevent these kinds of human rights violations from ever taking place again."
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.