The New Jersey Democrat-led Assembly on Thursday passed five bills borne out of a criminal investigation into what the state attorney general has said was an attack by guards on inmates at the state's only women's prison, as well as a history of abuse there.
Five of the six bills that cleared a committee earlier this week passed the full Assembly Thursday and head next to the state Senate, also led by Democrats. A spokesperson for the Senate president has said the chamber plans to take the bills up.
The sixth measure is still under review, according to Assembly Democratic spokesperson Regina Wilder.
The measures require body-worn cameras for corrections officers, bar retaliation against inmates who filed complaints, broaden guard training to include treating inmates with dignity, expand residential community release programs - commonly called halfway houses - and mandate officers assigned to special investigations in state prisons get training on sexual abuse inquiries.
The measure that got held required county jails to give inmates documents on reentering society before their release, among other changes.
The labor union representing state correctional officers, took issue with the body camera bill. William Sullivan, the President of the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105, said in a statement that the legislation would require more training and means more responsibility for officers. Officers should be paid more for the added duties, he said.
The legislative action grew out of headline-grabbing developments the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton.
In January, guards attacked at least six victims, breaking a bone near one inmate's eye and pepper spraying one woman, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. That resulted in 10 correctional officers being charged with official misconduct, among other charges. Grewal gave no motive.
Attorneys for several of the guards have said their clients are not guilty.
That led lawmakers to seek Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks’ resignation. The state Senate went so far as to pass a resolution seeking his dismissal. Hicks has defended his tenure and said he’s added body cameras at Edna Mahan and hired more women on staff, plus other changes.
Hicks has also retained a consultant to help turn around the prison. The Moss Group will make about $1.3 million for its services,according to public records.
The January attack also led Murphy to hire an attorney to investigate what happened.
In April, the state announced it was settling lawsuits with inmates at the prison going back to 2014 for nearly $21 million. Hicks also said an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department on a consent decree was being finalized, with a federal monitor likely to be put in place.
In April 2020, a U.S. Justice Department report last year concluded inmates’ rights had been violated at Edna Mahan amid a culture of acceptance of sexual violence toward the women at the prison.