The name Edna Mahan Correctional Institute for Women had always been synonymous with controversies.
Situated in the old mill town of Clinton, New Jersey, is the 108-year-old prison that currently holds more than 900 female inmates. On Feb. 4, the prison was again in the public limelight when the New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal disclosed that three prison guards, including two supervisors, were charged with misconduct following the violent attack on inmates at the facility.
Included was an inmate that was punched 28 times in the face, according to the Associated Press. Grewal stated further that Officer Luis Garcia had filed a false report to cover his tracks. His report justified using brutal force in self-defense because the inmate had punched him in his abdomen. Video evidence showed a contrary account. It showed Garcia punched the inmate while she was facing the wall without provocation.
After some inmates spoke to New York Times, it was reported that the atmosphere had been tense on Jan. 11, before the violent attack took place. The chaos started from the Restorative Housing Unit, where inmates who violated the prison policies were kept. A fight soon ensued between two rivals after officers placed both women in the same cell, despite objections from the inmates.
The situation escalated further when another inmate got angry that her cell was searched and she started throwing food. As a result, many of the inmates had not received their dinner and medications.
Later, armed prison guards dressed in full protective gears, removed some of the women from their cells and used excessive force to subdue the inmates. In particular was Garcia, who was also charged with assault.
Lawmakers and investigators have had many occasions to investigate a myriad of reported abuses at the female prison, with no recourse to address the systemic culture and modus operandi of the prison.
According to records at the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in 1994 and 1995, both Officers Kevin Brodie and William Jimenez were fired and prosecuted for having sexual relationships with inmates at the institution. Three years later, officer Stewart Sella was fired and prosecuted for rape and sexual assault of two inmates within a two-year span.
In 2018, Ronald Coleman Jr. was found guilty of five counts of sexual abuse, sexual assault and criminal sexual contact. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Over the years, many more prison officers had met the same fate for perpetuating various abuse of female inmates.
Lawmakers in the state expressed their frustrations after they’ve had multiple hearings to address allegations of abuse and misconduct, with no measurable success. Democrat Senator, Linda R. Greenstein, who headed New Jersey Senate’s Law and Public Committee, admitted the failure to overcome the many challenges of the institution when she spoke with the New York Times. She said she was tired of assessing what’s wrong at Edna Mahan and had called for the immediate removal and resignation of Commissioner of Corrections Marcus Hicks.
In a letter, Greenstein and her senate colleagues asked the Federal Government to assume control of the institution, its daily operations and the supervision of the inmates.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, in a joint fact-finding report of Edna Mahan in April 2020, had made some remedial recommendations to solve the sexual abuse epidemic. Measures such as a comprehensive upgrade of 654 additional cameras, with motion activation sensors to cover the entire Edna Mahan compound, including the unoccupied areas, were recommended.
Initially, the New Jersey Department of Correction had initiated the plan. However, after follow-up and an onsite review, it was reported that no one had been assigned to monitor the cameras continuously, according to the U.S. Department’s National Institute of Correction’s technical team. Staffing members were not increased in proportion with the additional cameras.
So far, Garcia and the two supervisors, Sgt. Amir Bethea and Sgt. Anthony Valvano, await their day in court. However, no one knows the fate of the hundreds of female inmates at Edna Mahan and if the state and the federal government can find a cure to the Edna Mahan problems.