NJ senators want prisons chief gone amid abuse scandal
There are growing calls for Gov. Phil Murphy to fire the Department of Corrections commissioner amid a probe of accusations of abuse by corrections staff against inmates at the state's women’s prison.
All 25 Senate Democrats have called for Marcus Hicks to immediately resign as DOC commissioner following the suspension of 30 employees at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women along with a new internal investigation stemming from a Jan. 11 incident. Republicans also have called for his removal.
“He has demonstrated time and again that he is not up to the task of running the Department of Corrections, a department that holds the responsibility for the custody and care of approximately 20,000 state-sentenced offenders housed across 12 state correctional facilities, county jails and community halfway houses,” the lawmakers said in a Jan. 28 letter to the governor.
Three correctional officers have been charged and more arrests were likely, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said on Feb. 4.
The latest investigation comes months after a federal report accused officials at the state facility in Hunterdon County of having failed to prevent widespread sexual abuse among inmates, despite being aware of systemic problems.
“We have reasonable cause to believe that Edna Mahan violates the constitutional rights of prisoners in its care, resulting in serious harm and the substantial risk of serious harm,” the report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded.
At the time, the state Department of Corrections placed blame for such abuse on the “previous administration” and described reforms meant to curb it, in a statement first reported by NJ.com.
The state also cited increased use of surveillance cameras and a pilot program for DOC officers to wear body cameras, as efforts to prevent such abuses moving forward.
“Time and again the commissioner has been reluctant or incapable of rectifying rampant problems within his department. It’s clear he is not up to the task. It is time for him to move on,” Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, said in a written statement on Wednesday.
Corrado also said she supported a planned resolution by Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield, R-Burlington, to begin the constitutional process of removing Hicks from his post.
“It goes without saying that Edna Mahan has a long, ugly history — one that has justifiably attracted scrutiny from county, state and federal investigators,” Grewal said. “That’s why we must do more than simply figure out what went wrong on Jan. 11. We must hold accountable all responsible parties, and we must fix the systemic failures that made this incident possible.”
"Any abuse of power is abhorrent and violates the public trust, and can never be tolerated or excused," Murphy said in announcement of a probe led by former State Comptroller Matt Boxer.
“Really, the governor can act in a few moments,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said during a legislative event on Monday.
Weinberg, along with Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Mecer, and Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, also are asking why the state hasn’t already signed a consent agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which would have installed federal monitors at the women’s prison, following the report in April.
“If federal monitors were assigned to Edna Mahan, the 32 corrections officers who are now suspended would have had to think hard before deciding to don riot gear, brutally assault women inmates or brazenly try to cover it up,” Weinberg was quoted as saying by the New Jersey Globe.
One of the officers was charged with aggravated assault in connection with punching an inmate in the head 28 times, Grewal said.
All three officers — two of them supervisors — have been charged with official misconduct and tampering with public records stemming from the Jan. 11 incident, after which more than 30 employees were suspended or placed on leave.
In September, The Women’s Reentry Commission, established by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation headed by former Gov. Jim McGreevey, also called for better oversight and safer conditions for female inmates.
Hicks was sworn in as commissioner of the Department of Corrections just over a year ago. Prior to that, Hicks had been Acting Commissioner since May 2018.
Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, also has renewed his call since last May for Hicks to be fired, which he initially based on accused mismanagement of the pandemic within the state corrections system.
With previous reporting by Michael Symons and David Matthau
LOOK: Answers to 30 common COVID-19 vaccine questions
While much is still unknown about the coronavirus and the future, what is known is that the currently available vaccines have gone through all three trial phases and are safe and effective. It will be necessary for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated in order to finally return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, and hopefully these 30 answers provided here will help readers get vaccinated as soon they are able.