Murphy is silent on performance of corrections commissioner

Governor says investigations into assaults on women prisoners must run their course

Gov. Phil Murphy remained silent about his corrections commissioner’s job performance after another four corrections officers were charged last week in connection with the assaults on inmates at New Jersey’s only women’s prison.

Those arrests did not appease lawmakers who are pressing for Marcus Hicks to either resign or be removed as head of the Department of Corrections.

Asked Monday how he would rate Hicks’ tenure over the department, Murphy did not answer directly. Instead, he focused on the investigations into the Jan. 12 assaults at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Hunterdon County, which left one woman with a fractured eye socket and another with a concussion.

“The attorney general has an active, ongoing investigation,” Murphy said during a coronavirus briefing. “We have an independent investigation going on, led by Matt Boxer, one of the smartest, toughest guys I know. And that’s where it has been and that’s where we’ll be, in that we need to bring both of those to a head and they will be brought to a head.”

Eight officers facing charges

Eight officers now face a combination of assault and official misconduct charges because of the forced extractions of women from their cells that led to officers allegedly punching them, using pepper spray on one and an attempted cover-up of the actions. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has said more than two dozen officers at Mahan were involved in the extractions. Some 30 guards and other staff reportedly have been placed on administrative leave. Hicks also announced he is contracting with a private firm to examine conditions in Mahan and recommend improvements.

The state Senate last month passed without opposition a resolution urging Hicks to resign or be removed and for the U.S. Department of Justice to take control of Mahan.

Legislators are unhappy with the way Hicks has handled other tasks, including the sluggish furloughing of prisoners to stem the spread of the coronavirus under Murphy’s executive order last year.

The Senate resolution states that the “Commissioner of Corrections repeatedly has demonstrated his inability to properly manage the operations of a department that oversees approximately 20,000 inmates in 12 State correctional facilities, as well as county jails and halfway houses.”

A bipartisan resolution is pending in the Assembly seeking to impeach Hicks.

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MORE: AG investigation into attack inside women’s prison brings more charges

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