New Jersey’s Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women has come under scrutiny in recent years, as former inmates are coming forward and testifying about the sexual abuse they endured from prison staff. In a public hearing held by the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny earlier this summer, these brave women described a long-term pattern of abuse within this prison.

Prison staff would often demand sexual favors in exchange for essential items – like toilet paper or sanitary pads. Some officers regularly entered women’s cells and sexually assaulted them. The women also recounted instances of:

  • Groping during pat downs
  • Being forced to sit naked in holding cells in front of guards
  • Being threatened with delayed parole if they did not comply with the officers’ demands

Complaints fell on deaf ears

According to the victims who testified, complaints about the abuse they endured were routinely ignored. One former inmate recounted an officer ripping up the grievance she filed right in front of her face. Complaining could also lead to being put in solitary confinement, being placed in a cell with minimal clothing and having your personal items destroyed or damaged, according to the victims.

How could this be allowed to happen?

An investigation into this prison found certain problems that could engender a dangerous and potentially abusive environment for inmates:

  • Camera blind spots made it easy for illicit activities to happen in certain areas of the facility.
  • Officers deliberately pointed cameras in the wrong direction (i.e., at the wall or ceiling) when entering an inmate’s cell.
  • Camera footage was only stored for 30 days.
  • There was no policy in place to prevent prison staff from smuggling in contraband (gum, cigarettes, etc.), which they could then use as ammunition to demand sexual favors.

Moving forward

Survivors of such abuse can have an extremely difficult time recovering. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and homelessness are not uncommon.

These former inmates were made to feel that their safety and security didn’t matter, and that being locked up relinquished them of all of their freedoms. However, this is flatly untrue. No one has the right to exert control over your body. In addition, any sexual act between an officer and an inmate is always rape.

These brave survivors have taken the first step in coming forward to speak out about their abuse. They are currently pursuing lawsuits against both the prison and the state of New Jersey to receive compensation for their suffering.