Weinberg Working Group Hones in on Prison Abuse

The special working group examining harassment, sexual assault and misogyny in New Jersey politics veered off in another direction today – prison abuse.

A number of former inmates at Edna Mahan Correctional Center for women in Hunterdon County described a disturbing pattern of abuse on various levels – sexual, physical and mental.

“Sexual predators and all kinds of sexual abuse” were the order of the day at the prison, said Mary Ann Brown, who said she spent 21 years there. Brown said the pattern was established the day she arrived in 1998 when she was ushered into a room, stripped of her clothes, and forced to sit naked while officers stared at her.

Another former inmate said she was forced to get accustomed to an officer reeking of alcohol entering her “room” and abusing her sexually. Another former inmate – her lawyer called her a “survivor” – said that the prison experience was so horrid that upon leaving, she remained frightened.

“I’m scared. I’m scared of men,” she said.

It was explained that when inmates complained about abuse, they were typically put in “solitary,”  as presumed punishment for speaking up.

Stories about abuse at Mahan are not new. And  in general, prison abuse can be a problem throughout the country.

That said, the unfortunate bottom line here is that the group headed by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg is not an official state body. So, it’s debatable precisely what it can do about the upsetting stories it  heard in a Zoom meeting.

Weinberg did say that she considered today’s speakers a “remarkable and courageous group of people.” The senator said one more meeting is planned later this month and the group will then issue a report. Weinberg said the last session will include a meeting with Katie Brennan, a senior member of the Murphy administration who claims she was raped by a Murphy campaign official in 2017. A special Legislative committee – also headed by Weinberg – held hearings on the matter for about six months in 2018 and 2019. A suit Brennan filed against the state was recently settled for $1 million.

The current working group, which includes women involved in various aspects of public life in New Jersey, came together after a Star-Ledger report about improper behavior at two annual New Jersey political events – the League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City and the state Chamber of Commerce train trip to Washington.

Another speaker today was Laura Gallagher, who said the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office failed to prosecute a man who she says sexually assaulted her. This story also has attracted recent attention because of an apparent rift between the State Police, who initially investigated the alleged crime, and the county prosecutor.

The only speaker making comments directly related to the group’s stated mission was Sadaf Jaffer, the mayor of Montgomery Township.

Identifying herself as a Muslim, Jaffer said she has received a torrent of abuse because of her faith. She said it includes accusations that she wants to implement Sharia Law and that she is “controlled” by her husband.

Jaffer said the abuse comes from political opponents and some residents and has included calls for Muslims “to be removed from the planet.”

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