After Years Of Ignoring Abuse At A Women's Prison, Department Of Corrections Suspends Nearly Three Dozen Employees

from the ohhhhh-you-mean-the-thugs-and-rapists-not-currently-serving-time dept

How does something horrific become an epidemic? Well, if you ignore any problem long enough, it's pretty much guaranteed to get worse.

Early last year, the DOJ released its report [PDF] on New Jersey's Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. The facility houses around 400 female inmates and is overseen by a little over 400 employees. Years of complaints from inmates prompted the DOJ to open an investigation in 2018. It found a pattern of rights violations, pointing out that five corrections officers had been convicted of sexual abuse charges from October 2016 to November 2019, including these three:

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.”

That's only the tip of this iceberg. The Wikipedia page for the corrections facility lists seventeen instances of corrections officers being convicted, charged, or fired for sexual misconduct, rape, or sexual assault. The list dates back to 1994, showing this to be an ongoing problem that the New Jersey Department of Corrections has yet to bring under control.

This failure to address the problem made it systemic. Here's the conclusion reached by the DOJ following its two-year investigation:

The Department’s investigation has uncovered facts that provide reasonable cause to conclude that Edna Mahan (1) fails to protect women prisoners from sexual abuse by staff in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and (2) exposes women prisoners to substantial risk of serious harm from sexual abuse in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Systemic failures in Edna Mahan’s policies and practices discourage reporting of sexual abuse; do not provide an adequate response to and investigations of allegations of prisoner sexual abuse; and result in inadequate supervision that provides opportunities for further sexual abuse.

The details in the report are extremely disturbing.

Substantiated incidents of staff sexual abuse of prisoners at Edna Mahan are varied and disturbing. Some staff abused prisoners through unwanted and coerced “sexual contact” or “sexual penetration.” In other instances, prisoners were forced to perform fellatio on or touch the “intimate body part” of staff. In still other instances, staff required prisoners to undress or masturbate in their cells—or even engage in sexual acts with other prisoners—while staff watched. In at least one instance, a correction officer forced a prisoner to keep watch as he sexually abused her to prevent detection of his crimes.

And it gets worse:

Similarly, numerous prisoners report that, during unnecessarily close contact with male correction officers, some correction officers “rub” or “press themselves” – that is, their clothed genitals – against prisoners. Others report being strip searched with several other women at the same time or while male correction officers watched. In one instance, a prisoner reported that a male officer watched as she inserted a tampon. In another instance, it was reported that a group of officers had “viewing parties” of a prisoner with mental illness on suicide watch who believed she was a male and would follow officers’ instructions to dance and show her “penis” while undressed.

Much worse:

Correction officers and staff at Edna Mahan routinely refer to prisoners as “bitches,” “hoes,” “assholes,” “dyke,” “stripper,” “faggot-assed bitch,” “motherfuckers,” and “whores.” They graphically comment on prisoners’ physical appearance or remark about their perceived sexual inclinations and histories.

Prisoners reporting sexual abuse by corrections officers were retaliated against, sent to solitary confinement after being shackled and placed on a Body Orifice Security Scanner, supposedly to check for evidence of assault. (Even if true, these examinations could be performed without shackling prisoners to a chair and subjecting them to a device that searches for hidden contraband, rather than evidence of rape.) Additional privileges were also stripped from those reporting assaults by officers, with some of them losing personal possessions or work opportunities.

In addition, the reporting system was inadequate to handle complaints. And investigations by the prison were deliberately less than thorough, resulting in unearned exonerations and abandoned cases.

Almost a year after the release of this damning report, the trickle of disciplined corrections officers has become a deluge. Following these horrifying allegations, heads have finally begun to roll en masse.

One woman, Ajila Nelson, told NJ.com that officers at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility on Jan. 11 handcuffed her and others, before punching, kicking, stripping and dragging her to a shower, after which she says an unidentified male officer got on top of her and groped and sexually assaulted her.

And there's more:

Prisoners have told family members and advocates that at least three women at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility were hurt by officers Jan. 11, including one inmate who now has a broken eye socket and a transgender woman beaten so badly she cannot walk and is now in a wheelchair.

That got the attention of state lawmakers. And with their attention engaged, the NJ Department of Corrections finally decided -- almost a year after the DOJ released its report -- to start taking the problem seriously.

Thirty-one staff members at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, New Jersey’s only women’s state prison, have been suspended following reports of inmate abuse by prison guards.

The New York Times reports 22 guards, nine supervisors and the prison’s top administrator have all been suspended. The New Jersey attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into the matter and the State Assembly announced it will be holding hearings to look into the accounts of abuse.

The prison that refused to properly investigate itself is now under two new microscopes. And it has responded by suspending 7 percent of its staff. That's huge. And there will likely be more names added to the list before these concurrent investigations are concluded.

As a nation, we claim to believe in justice: the payment of debt for wrongs against society. But what we're really doing is handing human beings to people who don't believe those in their charge are anything more than receptacles for abuse. It's not enough to take their freedom away. They must also be stripped of their humanity and agency. And when crime goes down we applaud the improvement. But the criminal acts that occur in prisons and jails go ignored because it's easier to believe whatever happens to incarcerated citizens is something they're obligated to endure.

It's this attitude that allows behavior like this to fester and expand until it can no longer be ignored. Edna Mahan isn't an anomaly. It's just the way things are. Most of it flies under the radar. Every so often, the ugliness pokes its head out of the ground and it's no longer able to be ignored. The NJ Department of Corrections had years to address this and it chose not to. That it's doing it now is better than nothing. But any agency that gives a damn about the people it's overseeing would have dumped these abusers and enablers years ago -- not just when faced with a bunch of bad press and government investigations.

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Filed Under: doj, edna mahan correctional facility, new jersey, new jersey department of corrections, prisons, sexual abuse


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  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 4:18pm

    It's just a hunch

    but somehow I have a feeling that pleading guilty to, and/or being charged with and convicted of, "official misconduct" may be a way to avoid much more serious, and probably more accurate and appropriate, criminal charges.

    From the Wikipedia article, it seems that several corrections officers were charged with other, more serious crimes in addition to "official misconduct," but it still seems kind of euphemistic to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 5:36pm

    As a nation, we claim to believe in justice: the payment of debt for wrongs against society.
    [citation needed]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    farooge (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 6:12pm

    this is important

    I've never stepped foot in a prison and have only ever visited a jail once in my life but this subject is important to me. Important enough that I would have probably voted for someone like Trump (who I find offensive) if he said fixing this shit was a priority.

    I'm ashamed of my country when I read things like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 11:48am

      Re: this is important

      "I would have probably voted for someone like Trump (who I find offensive) if he said fixing this shit was a priority."

      Problem is ... you can not believe anything that man says.

      In addition, even if one could believe him, why would law 'n order be your top priority? As far as I know, law and order is just a euphemism for racism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 6:26pm

    Well if they just hadn't broken the law...

    Despite some people actually being horrified about these things, no one ever notice how the will to do anything about seems really fscking low?
    Prisoners being abused is a bonus to the system in some peoples minds.
    Just like how they enjoy cops who bounce the 'bad guys' head off the car to teach them not to be bad (ignoring that sometimes its a 9 yr old being maced for acting like a child).

    The system has become a dumping ground of bad actors protected by systems saying its just a few bad apples with the tacit approval of the 'well jails not meant to be pleasant' voters who really do not want to know that the jail was so horrible a man died of hyperthermia in his cell that was over 110 degrees all day, that an mentally ill prisoner was boiled to death, that these female prisoners are systematically abused & raped while they were out at a dinner supporting #MeToo.

    The system is screwed.
    Reform is no longer an option.
    We need to tear it down, burn all the old ways & do much better.
    And hey the upside for a bunch of these former guards is they won't have to worry about being raped by the new screws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2021 @ 7:57pm

    Body Orifice Security Scanner

    The, i'm sorry, what?

    Yeah it's good that someone is finally paying some attention [vomits] but how long will that last and what will it accomplish and how far can that attention spread? I mean, i just assume that in a month or year or whatever it will be back to, "Meet the new BOSS, same as the old Boss". [Knows prisons are bad, but WTAF?]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 2:02am

      Re:

      "The, i'm sorry, what?"

      A way to find contraband stuffed into bodily orifices in a relatively less intrusive way than putting on a rubber glove and shove your hand inside to grope around until you find something not belonging there.

      Note the use of the word "relatively".

      "I mean, i just assume that in a month or year or whatever it will be back to, "Meet the new BOSS, same as the old Boss"."

      US prisons are hellholes mainly because the perception among the US citizenry that prisons are for retaliation and not for rehabilitation.

      I recall reading about an attempt in one state to provide opportunities such as education and trainee programs for nonviolent offenders, bringing recidivism down by 90%. The citizenry wouldn't have it, the next governor was elected on the premise of being tough on criminals and ever since whoever comes in a nonviolent offender comes out a very violent and traumatized person so broken their only choice is to become a smarter and more ruthless criminal. The system might as well be deliberately designed to make prison a gang recruitment ground.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 7:33pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm rather aware of these things, but sometimes it seems that some elements of the modern carceral system take things to a whole new level. That is, i still manage to be surprised, even, at how systemically and rampantly evil these people and institutions can be.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Feb 2021 @ 7:49am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "That is, i still manage to be surprised, even, at how systemically and rampantly evil these people and institutions can be."

          Hrm. I'm always surprised when people are surprised at rampantly evil police officers and prison wardens.

          Consider that those jobs can accurately be described in these words; "The applicant needs to be someone who is happy to regularly dominate and exert violence toward their fellow man for the purpose of punishment and restriction".

          It's no big surprise that both those jobs will draw thugs and sociopaths like honey will draw flies. If anything I find it very odd that given the attraction of those roles for the more monstrous parts of human nature there aren't a LOT more safeguards built into the system to weed out and restrict those who are in it just for the jackbooted thuggery.

          For a little hint on how bad this really is I'd advise googling the following sentence; "The FBI warned for years that police are cozy with the far right. Is no one listening?".

          If known domestic terrorist sympathizers have no issue getting jobs in law enforcement, how well do you think they screen against "normal" thugs?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Feb 2021 @ 11:38pm

    aND?

    The Boss's, owners, those responsible for monitoring and HANDLING the problems??

    NOTHING. they get FIRED and never have to deal with prison or Paying for the Humiliation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 2:59am

    It's always jarring to hear these horrid, absolute puke-inducing stories about how so called justice is allowed to bring psychopaths descending on prisoners. By retaliating against criminals, justice perverts itself. Slavery, torture, abuse right in socities backyard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2021 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      There is an attitude among Americans that a convicted prisoner loses all his civil rights. Perhaps this popular myth might be publicly clarified, and help lead to change in the public outlook towards prisoners a bit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 8:15am

    Prison Guards, Police, Priests, and boy scout leaders

    Any sense of any kind of abuse and they should get the end of a bat broken off inside them. Which end of that bat could be decided by individual states or victims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 8:57am

      Re: Prison Guards, Police, Priests, and boy scout leaders

      this is exactly the kind of thinking that got us where we are

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 5 Feb 2021 @ 11:43am

        Re: Re: Prison Guards, Police, Priests, and boy scout leaders

        The deterrent to this tends to Be EQUAL to a parent abusing their Own responsibility.
        You can take the responsibility away, but that isnt really a deterrent.
        You and Publicly denounce them, but most people wont give a darn.
        You can Physically Abuse them in a way they SHOULD not be public.
        We can do the 3 strikes rule.(we dont even use that on cops)

        Doing anything Public, becomes Forever, because someone will always remember or look up the info. And that ISNT good.

        I would suggest Given them all a choice of Multiple ways to deal with it. really. Along with a 3 strikes and allot of monitoring.
        And the last 2 depends on what they did, and if we need to get them Married.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 9:00am

      Re: Prison Guards, Police, Priests, and boy scout leaders

      Any sense of any kind of abuse and they should get the end of a bat broken off inside them.

      So your solution to prisoners being sexually abused is to sexually abuse the perpetrators?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2021 @ 10:11am

        Re: Re: Prison Guards, Police, Priests, and boy scout leaders

        Absolutely fantastic deterrent.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 10:55am

          Re: Re: Re: Prison Guards, Police, Priests, and boy scout leader

          Absolutely fantastic deterrent.

          Perhaps if anyone is accused of such we should just immediately shoot them in the head. That would be a great deterrent, no? You don't really believe in the Constitution much, do you?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 3 Feb 2021 @ 1:08pm

    Just a sidebar:

    There is a school of thought that holds that prisons and jails should be for people we are afraid of, not people we are mad at.

    Currently our options to prison and jail are very limited, but that does not mean we cannot come up with new options that are more rehabilitative and less punitive and retributional.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GodlessInNC (profile), 4 Feb 2021 @ 6:34am

    The only way

    we can guarantee the safety of female prisoners against sexual abuse, rape, assault, is to keep male corrections officers out of women’s prisons. I don’t even know if that’s allowed with current laws but it seems simple to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2021 @ 8:58am

    DOJ released a report on our fenales at Lowell CI in Ocala, FL this past Dec. Some of our lawmakers are answering with a bodycam pilot at Lowell reporting directly to them. In FL senate and house as SB 792 and HB 693! The addition of consistent monitoring can stop the majority of the abuse. Where are the blind spots when it is attached?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2021 @ 11:35am

    Sounds to me like its the NJ Department of Corrections that needs a good scrubbing. Sending a few of them to any of the other abuse-ridden correction facilities as inmates might be just the thing they need.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Feb 2021 @ 12:19pm

      Re:

      Sending a few of them to any of the other abuse-ridden correction facilities as inmates might be just the thing they need.

      Distressing that this has to be said again, but sexually abusing sexual abusers is not the solution to sexual abuse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2021 @ 8:59pm

    The only way

    we can guarantee the safety of female prisoners against sexual abuse, rape, assault, is to keep male corrections officers out of women’s prisons. I don’t even know if that’s allowed with current laws but it seems simple to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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