'Sickened By Reports,' Murphy Orders Investigation Of Abuse At Notorious Women's Prison

UPDATE: Gov. Phil Murphy appointed a special investigator Wednesday to probe allegations that several inmates were beaten at New Jersey's notorious prison for women.

Matthew Boxer
Matthew Boxer Photo Credit: State of New Jersey, Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

Murphy said he ordered a "full independent investigation," under the direction of former federal prosecutor and ex-state comptroller Matthew Boxer, into what happened at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County on Jan. 11.

“I am sickened by the horrific reports of what happened” Murphy said.

Female inmates "have long been uniquely vulnerable to abuse" and must be "treated with dignity and respect" like everyone behind bars in New Jersey, he said.

Boxer's review is being done "to determine how this happened and make recommendations to prevent anything like it from ever happening again," the governor said. "Any individual who acted improperly will be held fully accountable."

Daily Voice reported Monday that 29 officers and supervisors at Edna Mahan have been suspended following allegations that several inmates were beaten.

Among those on paid administrative leave are an associate administrator, two corrections majors, a corrections lieutenant, five corrections sergeants and 20 corrections officers, according to a state Department of Corrections memo obtained by Daily Voice.

The Jan. 11 incident apparently involved inmates in "administrative segregation" and officers in riot gear, a corrections source told Daily Voice.

The inmates were accused of tossing urine and other items at corrections officers, he said, adding that it “went downhill from there.”

Administrative segregation -- or ADSEG -- is a form of disciplinary detention that stops short of solitary confinement, prison officials say.

Located off Route 78 in Clinton, Edna Mahan has long been considered “out of control, improperly managed, and clearly an abusive danger to the women locked up behind its walls,” state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Chair Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer) wrote in a letter to Murphy.

Several correctional police officers at the facility have been charged with sexual assault or misconduct over the past decade, the senators noted.

Corrections officials last year promised a change in culture at the prison, which holds 550 or so women. They said they’d been working with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle federal allegations of violating inmates' civil rights by not protecting them from systematic abuse by guards and a “brotherhood of silence.”

Then came this month’s incident, first reported Monday by NJ Advance Media.

Family members and advocates contended that the incident left one inmate with a broken eye socket and a transgender inmate in a wheelchair following a beating that involved both officers and inmates.

A state spokesman previously said that the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability was investigating along with the Corrections Department and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office.

Meanwhile, all seven Republican Assemblywomen have insisted that Corrections Department Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, be replaced.

The allegations and subsequent disciplinary actions "should stop all of us in our tracks,” they said in a joint statement. “This is not a few bad actors scenario. The continued abuses at the Edna Mahan demonstrate the need for further overhaul to cleanse the culture of abuse and bring justice to the women who endured these brutalities.”

At least seven other lawmakers from the other side of the aisle have called for a change in leadership, even if only temporarily.

Murphy, who has defended Hicks, has turned to Boxer -- of the law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP -- though both the state Department of Corrections and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office were reportedly investigating.

Known for intense scrutiny, Boxer "first gained renown for leading fair and effective investigations during his six-year term as New Jersey's State Comptroller" under two governors, Lowenstein Sandler wrote on its website.

Since then, it says, he has "conducted numerous high-stakes internal investigations for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to state agencies, focusing on issues including employee misconduct, vendor fraud, and company expenditures and related internal controls."

Earlier in his career, Boxer directed the state Authorities Unit, monitoring 57 agencies that included the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and Economic Development Authority.

He was a federal prosecutor from 2001 to 2006, serving in the Terrorism Unit, the Criminal Division and the Special Prosecutions Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Among his success was the historic takedown of the "Monmouth 11," which included three sitting mayors, four sitting councilmen and a police commissioner, on public corruptions charges.

Other cases involved Boxer representing the New Jersey Division of Equal Employment Opportunity into an investigation of workplace discrimination allegations against the New Jersey National Guard.

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