No time to wait; Commissioner Hicks must be Impeached

Jean Stanfield

By JEAN STANFIELD

Widespread sexual and physical abuse of women permeated the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for years and is still ongoing. Prison guards have been convicted, investigations have been completed, and the problem is staring us right in the face, clear as day.

The person at top needs to be fired.  New Jersey Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks has had ample time to get his house in order and end the constant torture in one of his prisons. Governor Phil Murphy has mountains of evidence to determine the situation is not getting better and find a new commissioner. Both men failed to act.  In doing so, they let down victims of sexual and physical abuse in a spectacular way.

Because Governor Murphy has failed to do so, it is time for the legislature to act and impeach Commissioner Hicks. I’ll be introducing articles of impeachment on Thursday with strong bipartisan support from female legislators of both parties.

During my tenure as Burlington County Sheriff, part of the job was apprehending dangerous fugitives to make communities safer for everyone, but equally as important was meeting the needs of at-risk individuals to ensure people had a fair chance to live a successful life.

I had the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life, of hearing their stories and understanding how the adversity they’ve been through factored into their current situations. For instance, from my time hosting the County Sheriff’s Women’s Self-Defense Workshop, I saw women who had been victimized their entire lives and had experienced more trauma than anyone could imagine.

When I heard about the atrocities that were, and are still, happening at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, it brought me right back to those women. Reading the stories of a female prisoner being handcuffed and punched in the head 28 times by a male guard and another allegedly being told sex was the only way she was getting toilet paper, had me seeing red.

It’s estimated that at least half of all female prisoners have been victims of sexual or physical abuse in their lives. That abuse leads to a pattern of them seeking comfort in the wrong people who further abuse their bodies and their trust. Now they’re stuck in a correctional facility, suffering through an endless loop of sexual and physical violence at the hands of the male guards that are paid to protect them.

We can debate the choices these women made to land them in a correctional facility and the sentencing they deserve. What we can’t debate is that they are still humans, and no human should be subjected to daily torture while serving their sentence.

The Edna Mahan Correctional Facility has had a disgusting reputation of sexual and physical assault for years. A US Department of Justice report released last April detailed the experiences of women at the hands of guards and the convictions that followed.

Since the report was released, the situation has only gotten worse, with 31 corrections officers getting suspended just last month.

No matter how evil the culture at the facility has gotten under Commissioner Hicks, Governor Murphy has stood by him. Just last week, he told people to be patient and wait for the results of yet another investigation he’s ordered. The women at Edna Mahan have no time to be patient when trapped in a nightmare.

The proof of widespread sexual and physical abuse at the hands of guards has been available. It’s time to act. We will impeach Commissioner Hicks together and begin the pathway to healing that these women deserve.

Jean Stanfield is the Assemblywoman from LD8 and a Republican candidate for the state senate.

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