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DOC Doesn't Get It

Selene Kaye,
Director, Liberty Division,
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September 5, 2008

On Wednesday, nearly nine months after the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the transfer of 40 women prisoners from New Jersey’s women’s prison to a men’s supermax prison, the Department of Corrections (DOC) transferred the women back.

In March 2007 the DOC abruptly moved the women from Edna Mahan Correctional Facility to New Jersey State Prison, where they were held in lockdown conditions – confined in their cells for up to 22 hours a day and denied basic movement within the prison. Unlike the male prisoners, the women were denied access to the prison school and law library, and to basic hygiene and privacy.

While it is a victory that these women will no longer be subjected to the repressive and discriminatory treatment they suffered at NJSP, this is far from a satisfactory solution to the array of flaws in New Jersey’s criminal justice system challenged in our lawsuit. Edna Mahan has problematic conditions of its own, including overcrowding in the medium-security units, Stowe and Hillcrest, and insufficient transportation provided to family members wishing to visit their loved ones. Recently, even when visitors have been able to make the long journey to the prison, they have found that their visits have been shortened to only 45 minutes. Edna Mahan, the state’s sole women’s prison, is located in the northwest corner of New Jersey, and like women’s prisons in so many states, it is far from prisoners’ families.

In addition, transfers like these should not occur arbitrarily. Each time these women are shuffled back and forth at the DOC’s whim, they are uprooted and traumatized, and the few possessions they have are often confiscated or destroyed, or simply disappear. The DOC must create and implement a humane procedure for all transfers, including notices, hearings, and protocols for guards.

Although the DOC claims that Wednesday’s transfer was unrelated to the ACLU lawsuit, it’s clear that they hope to make the suit go away with this move. However, until the DOC provides a viable plan to house women prisoners and meet their needs, we will continue to stand up for women incarcerated in New Jersey and will challenge unconstitutional conditions and other rights violations.

For more information about this case, Jones v. Hayman, including statements from the women prisoners, visit our case page.

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