Tuesday, April 14, 2020
At Last. DOJ Finds NJ Women's Prison Violates Constitutional Rights
The Department of Justice began investigating the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in 2018. The Justice Department report was released this week. The primary finding was of rampant sexual abuse of incarcerated women by correctional officers and other staff. Since the investigation began DOJ reports:
In May 2018, an Edna Mahan correction officer was found guilty of five counts of sexually abusing prisoners. According to the sentencing judge, the “pervasive culture” at Edna Mahan allowed this correction officer to abuse his “position of authority to indulge in [his] own sexual stimulation.”
In July 2018, another Edna Mahan correction officer pled guilty to three counts of official misconduct after he admitted sexually abusing three separate prisoners.
In January 2019, another correction officer pled guilty to official misconduct charges after admitting that he repeatedly sexually abused two Edna Mahan prisoners over a period of several years. In sentencing him, the New Jersey court concluded that the officer had “sexually assaulted a vulnerable population.”
Others have been indicted.
As reported by the NY Times, “Sexual abuse should not be a part of any prisoner’s punishment,” Eric S. Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement accompanying the report, the result of an investigation by the division and the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey. “Women prisoners at Edna Mahan are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.”
Incarcerated women have complained for decades of the sexual and other abuse they are subjected to while confined. Edna Mahan's women were no different. The women endured years of abuse, which included being forced to have sex with other women while staff observed. The report went on to say that “Our society requires prisoners to give up their liberty, but that surrender does not encompass the basic right to be free from severe unwanted sexual contact.” The question has to be asked - why did it take years of reporting for any significant investigation to be done? Other incarcerated women report similar abuses at a wide number of facilities but life is often more difficult for them if they report the abuse. The women of Edna Mahan were courageous in their reporting but not after years of being threatened into silence.
Most incarcerated women lost their liberty for non-violent crimes. Most incarcerated women were abused during their pre-incarceration years. These women do need prison. They need services. Whether the needed help is for substance abuse, mental health, education or reunification with children, prisons to not provided supportive environments that will assist women to have healthy lives. The abolition of prisons for women and girls is a national movement, led by the National Council of Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Those interested in joining the abolitionist movement will readily find local organizations leading the efforts locally. Prisons for women have a sordid history of physical and sexual abuse of women and failure to provide services even at the level male provided to incarcerated men. Time indeed is up on the incarcerated of women and girls.