N.J. Corrections Commissioner Resigns Day After Announced Closure of State's Only Women's Prison

New Jersey's corrections commissioner answered calls to resign on Tuesday after months of criticism for his handling of problems at the state's troubled women's prison, which Governor Phil Murphy said Monday will close.

State lawmakers have lambasted Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks and demanded his dismissal, citing his overall job performance and his actions regarding the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, the state's only women's prison. Ten guards face criminal charges brought by the state attorney general for alleged violent attacks on inmates this past January.

Hicks defended his record of service and said he added body cameras at Edna Mahan and hired more women, among other changes. He had hired a consultant in an effort to improve the prison, which has a long history of alleged abuse.

In a statement, Hicks said, "I'm proud of the work we've done and wish our staff and individuals under our care well as the department continues its mission to ensure safety and promote rehabilitation."

Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy attends an event on December 7, 2019, in Newark. On Monday, he announced that the state's troubled women's prison will close. Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Montclair Film

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Murphy, a Democrat, announced his intention to close Edna Mahan on Monday, after reviewing a new 75-page investigative report he commissioned on the January attack by mostly male prison guards on female inmates.

Among the new details in the document: Some female inmates were forced to strip and submit to searches in front of male guards.

The 75-page report is based on interviews with some officers, as well as Hicks, and the corrections ombudsperson, videos and 21,000 documents and emails.

It offers details about the January 11 and 12 attacks on what Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said were at least six inmates. Among its findings are that guards used excessive force on inmates and filed false reports after removing inmates from their cells. The staff also failed to bar male guards from viewing female inmates during strip searches, in violation of policy.

The report also offers new details about what led up to the attack and how it unfolded.

It says that in the days before the attack, there was "a coordinated effort" by some inmates to "splash" prison guards, a term referring to throwing liquids, including urine and feces, at them.

Murphy said Monday he was "deeply disturbed and disgusted" by the attacks against inmates.

"Individuals in state custody deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and the officers involved in this incident, both directly and indirectly, abused their power to send a message that they were in charge," he said.

The prison in Clinton, Hunterdon County, more than 50 miles west of New York City, dates to 1913. Grewal has said it has an "ugly history," part of which was documented in an April 2020 U.S. Justice Department report that found a "culture of acceptance" of sexual abuse of inmates.

In April, the state reached a nearly $21 million settlement over long-standing allegations of abuse and harassment at the facility.

Victoria Kuhn, current chief of staff for the Departments of Corrections, will serve as acting commissioner.

Edna Mahan
The Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey. The state's corrections commissioner announced his resignation Tuesday. Seth Wenig/AP Photo