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DOJ: New Jersey women’s prison failed to address sex abuse

April 14, 2020 GMT

CLINTON, N.J. (AP) — A federal report accuses officials at New Jersey’s only state women’s prison of having failed to take action to prevent rampant sexual abuse at the facility despite being aware of systemic problems.

The Department of Justice report released Monday alleges that the state corrections department and officials at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women violated inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them.

Several corrections officers at the prison have pleaded guilty or been convicted of sexual abuse and misconduct in recent years.

The report called sexual abuse at the prison “severe and prevalent,” and said a “culture of acceptance” has persisted for many years. It concluded that the prison failed to adequately investigate abuse complaints and didn’t protect those who reported abuse from retaliation.

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The prison could face a federal lawsuit by June if it doesn’t comply with the report’s recommendations.

In an emailed statement, the state corrections department said a task force has made improvements at the prison including increased camera surveillance and an enhanced training program.

“The Department of Corrections remains committed to ensuring the safety of all those in its care, and in service of that goal continues to regularly monitor and evaluate its operations, programs and services,” the statement said.

The Mahan facility, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of New York City, gained notoriety in the late 1970s when Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster during a traffic stop in 1973, escaped and eventually fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro.