The head of the state’s prison system says he doesn’t know when an ongoing federal investigation into Edna Mahan Correctional Facility will wrap up and that the reforms now underway aimed at reducing cases of sexual misconduct will take a while to take hold.

It will be a few months before 2018 data is available, but statistics for 2017 show complaints from inmates across the prison system about sexual misconduct continues to rise.

Since 2012, the number of instances of alleged sexual abuse and harassment has risen continuously, according to data the Department of Corrections publishes to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The number of complaints, most of which were not found to be substantiated, was nine in 2012, 23 in 2013, 45 in 2014, 66 in 2015, 97 in 2016 and 145 in 2017.

In 2017, 79 of the complaints were lodged against staff and 66 against inmates.

“The fact that you have more allegations to me indicates that people are starting to feel more comfortable in reporting, and we’re creating this atmosphere through our education efforts to create that,” said acting Commissioner Marcus Hicks.

The number of cases that were substantiated was one in 2012, one in 2013, zero in 2014 and one in 2015 – then eight in 2016 and seven in 2017.

While the number of allegations increased by 50 percent between 2016 and 2017, Hicks said it could be encouraging that the number of substantiated cases didn’t.

“The fact that you have less number of cases substantiated also might indicate that we’re starting to realize that this behavior is decreasing,” Hicks said.

There were two substantiated cases of sexual misconduct toward an inmate by an employee at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, now the focus of a Justice Department civil-rights investigation. Since 2015, seven employees at Edna Mahan have been charged with sexually abusing inmates.

Hicks said changes at Edna Mahan are an ongoing process. They include a safety and accountability task force, updated training and a move toward gender-restricted posts in housing areas.

“This is not going to be an overnight fix, but certainly we feel that the initiatives we’ve put in place have started to change the culture in the Department of Corrections and particularly at Edna Mahan,” Hicks said.

“If we can create a culture in which the inmates feel comfortable in reporting, and the bad actors know that those actions that are illegal will be prosecuted and substantiated, then I think that we’ve taken a big step in addressing the problem,” Hicks said.

Hicks said that of the 355 custody officers at Edna Mahan, 189 are men and 166 are women.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com