On June 7, Governor Phil Murphy ordered the closure of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF), New Jersey’s only state prison for women. The move comes after the Governor’s office released its findings about a brutal cell extraction that took place on January 11. The incident led to criminal charges against several guards for allegedly using excessive force.
Inmates will be moved to other facilities or a new facility.
On January 11, there was no acting administrator at the EMCF. Administrator Sarah Davis had just retired. The new administrator, Patricia McGill, was not appointed until January 16.
COVID-19 made this period particularly challenging. Separating inmates who did not get along with each other was increasingly difficult due to the virus. In addition, inmates had conducted splashing incidents with guards, in which guards were squirted with liquid, often urine.
The guards decided to take revenge for the splashing incidents that day by conducting a cell extraction. According to a surveillance video, 17 of the extractions and examinations of the cells proceeded without issue. However, four inmates required a forced extraction, while a fifth was initially compliant and then did not comply. Those who did not comply were beaten.
The video shows an officer punching one non-compliant inmate 28 times. That inmate was later diagnosed with a concussion and cervical sprain.
Long History of Abuse
Long before January 11, there was a history of inmate abuse by guards stretching back decades. A DOJ report published in April 2020 states that sexual abuse at the facility was an open secret.
Guards pressured inmates into exchanging sexual favors for gifts of contraband, such as cigarettes. They might threaten or physically punish a woman. Some women were denied their medication unless they gave in to the demands.
EMCF’s policies made reporting sexual abuse difficult. Women who did file reports found they were usually not taken seriously. Reporting an assault brought repercussions, with women finding themselves strip-searched and sent to solitary confinement as punishment. Victims realized what might happen if they went on the record.
The DOJ report recommends that the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) diversify female incarceration placement, so there is more than one facility in the state that can house female prisoners. According to NJDOC and EMCF officials interviewed for the report, because EMCF is the state’s sole female prison, it is hard to separate inmates from each other or from staff if there are continuing issues. Those transfers are common in male prisons when such problems arise.
EMCF’s infrastructure is also in dire need of upgrading. Issues include mold and leaking sewage in some housing units. There are numerous abandoned buildings on the site, where some corrections officers committed sexual assaults on inmates. These structures were described as “additional opportunities for abuse.”
The report states there was universal sentiment across the investigation that the poor condition of the EMCF contributed to the low prisoner and staff morale. Recruiting “high quality” prison guards was difficult due to the facility’s remote location in rural Hunterdon County and the starting salary of just $44,479. In New Jersey, many county guards receive higher starting salaries.
Inmates have the right not to be abused. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.