The state will pay a total of $21 million.
New Jersey has agreed to pay $21 million to settle a lawsuit filed by several women who claim they were sexually assaulted while serving sentences at the state’s only all-women prison.
According to NJ.com, the settlement still needs to be approved by a New Jersey Superior Court judge. Oliver Barry, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that if the agreement passes the court, then some of the reward will be put into a trust for other potential victims. If more women come forward with claims of abuse, then they may be eligible for a share of the settlement.
About $9.8 million will go directly to more than 20 women who have already alleged they were assaulted in the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.
Along with providing damages, New Jersey and its Department of Corrections has agreed to reform policies at Edna Mahan. Prison guards will now have to wear body cameras, the use of which will be enforced by Corrections officials.
Marcus Hicks, the state Corrections Commissioner, said that New Jersey’s decision to settle shows its good intent.
“My administration is ushering in a new era in corrections, with safety and rehabilitation at its core,” Hicks said.
NJ.com notes that the women’s prison has attracted scrutiny for years. As recently as January, Edna Mahan guards purportedly beat several inmates. While that case has yet to resolve, the investigation into the beatings led to charges filed against eight officers as well as an intensive outside review. Critics and some lawmakers have also called for Hicks himself to step down, resign, or face impeachment.
The state’s settlement offer came just a day before New Jersey was scheduled to hold a hearing on the beatings.
Loretta Weinberg, New Jersey’s Senate Majority Leader, told New Jersey Advance Media that the settlement “is just further evidence of an institution in crisis where a culture of abuse has been allowed to fester for years.”
Other senators also questioned the timing of the settlement—as well as the fact that New Jersey and its Department of Corrections have yet to divulge information on how they plan to settle other cases.
“One year ago, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that the persistent pattern of sexual assault, brutality and abuses at Edna Mahan violated the constitutional rights of inmates,” Sen. Nelli Pou (D-Passaic) said. “Yet, nine months later, we still do not have an agreement on the settlement details proposed by the Justice Department. We need reforms now and we clearly cannot count on the Corrections Department to police itself.”