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18 Mayıs 2018 - 02:00

Editor's note: Hours after this story was published, authorities announced a federal civil rights investigation at the prison and corrections officials disclosed pending reforms

By S.P. Sullivan | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

What goes on behind the bars at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women?

That question is the subject of an ongoing criminal probe by county prosecutors, an independent investigation ordered by the state attorney general last year and, perhaps soon, a special commission being proposed by state lawmakers.

Edna Mahan, a small prison with a population of about 650 inmates in Hunterdon County, has seen seven of its staff members criminally accused of sexually abusing inmates since 2015.

Yet facing a scandal that has stretched on for two years across two administrations, the state Department of Corrections has divulged little about what it has done to curb allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of its own staff.

Officials declined to attend a public hearing on conditions at the prison, and to answer specific questions from the media or release unredacted e-mails sought under the state's records laws. The re-nomination of Commissioner Gary Lanigan was put on hold because lawmakers intended to ask tough questions at his confirmation hearing, and Lanigan later announced his retirement.

His replacement, acting Commissioner Marcus Hicks, will likely face those questions at budget hearings in front of the state Legislature scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

The criminal trial of Jason Mays, a former senior corrections officer who was convicted last week on charges he sexually abused two inmates at the prison, brought to light new details about the ongoing criminal inquiry and gave glimpses of how abuse can go undetected behind the walls of a state prison.

Here's what we learned from sitting in on weeks of testimony. 


2016 audit of Edna Mahan performed in compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act gave high marks to the prison, noting there were more than 90 cameras across the prison and no "blind spots."

Yet prison staff testified at Mays' trial that some minimum-security housing units contain no cameras at all.

Although it can take months or years for accusations of abuse to surface, in places that do have cameras, the footage is stored just 30 days before it is erased, one supervising officer testified.

And while authorities have long recognized the connection between the prison contraband trade and sexual abuse, there is no policy in place to prevent staff from smuggling cigarettes, food or drugs onto the grounds in their personal vehicles, according to Lt. Hector Smith. 

Smith, who has worked at Edna Mahan since 2012, told Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Daniels that many other prisons in the state require staff to park off grounds and go through security screening.

The prosecutor asked Smith whether there was "any procedure in place by how officers are getting through that gate to prevent the officer from bringing anything into the facility that shouldn't be brought in by rules and regulations."

"No," he replied, saying unlike other prisons, "Here, you can drive your car into the facility, which is very, very strange."



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