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New Jersey Court Enters Preliminary Injunction Barring Women Prisoners at Men’s Prison

New Jersey Court Enters Preliminary Injunction Barring Women Prisoners at Men’s Prison

A New Jersey Superior Court has issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits prison officials from transferring women prisoners to the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), a men’s maximum-security facility. The Court also entered orders certifying the lawsuit as a class action and denying prison officials summary judgment.

The suit was filed on December 12, 2007 by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU) on behalf of prisoners Kathleen Jones, Lakesha Jones, Sylvia Flynn and Helen L. Ewell. The action ensued after prison officials transferred the four plaintiffs and 36 other female prisoners from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF) to NJSP in March 2007. The Court’s class action order defines the class as “all general population women prisoners who are now or in the future will be confined in New Jersey State Prison.”

Before those transfers, the only women who were sent to NJSP from EMCF were those who had committed serious violations of prison rules. They were provided a hearing and returned to EMCF after completing their stint in the disciplinary segregation unit at NJSP.
The March 2007 transfers, however, affected women prisoners who had violated no rules.
The purpose was, instead, to create an open population unit for women prisoners at NJSP.

The ACLU lawsuit asserted violations of the plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the state constitution. While the Court said it could not review the prisoners’ procedural due process complaint based on failure to give notice of the transfers to NJSP, because that claim must be decided by the Appellate Division, it had to determine whether the transfers violated their substantive due process rights, which required making a fact-finding record. The Court also held that discovery must ensue to determine what, if any, of the prisoners’ constitutional or civil rights were violated.

The 40 women prisoners who were transferred to and housed at NJSP alleged they were subjected to living conditions that were dangerous, filthy and inhumane. They could only clean their cells once a week and had to share bucket water with ten to twelve other cells.
The women received inadequate medical and psychiatric care, and insufficient educational and rehabilitative programming. Exercise opportunities were not meaningful and their cell windows were frosted over.

The women prisoners were confined to their unit, which prevented them from using the law library or having equal visitation, recreational and job privileges. In contrast, male prisoners at NJSP are allowed to freely exercise their rights.

When the women were allowed into their small recreation area, they were viewed by male prisoners who exposed themselves or yelled crude remarks. Privacy issues were also a concern, as male guards were present while women prisoners received medical care, took showers, and undressed or used the toilet in their cells. The medical area was a small, filthy closet that had been cleared out. The women were not provided a sufficient supply of sanitary napkins or toilet paper.

Prison officials painted a different, and rosier, picture. That picture, however, turned out to be somewhat abstract. In March 2008, evidence emerged that James Drumm, the Assistant Administrator of NJSP, offered reductions in disciplinary sentences to women prisoners in exchange for making false statements describing conditions at NJSP as being better than they were. After one prisoner told the ACLU about the offer she was beaten by a prison guard, according to her own statement and those of three other prisoners.

In later statements to the Court, women prisoners described a campaign of intimidation designed to punish and silence prisoners who spoke out. Other sworn statements detailed bullying and intimidation carried out by the internal affairs unit of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the Special Investigations Division.

The Court’s preliminary injunction prohibits prison officials “from transferring any general population women prisoners to the NJSP” during the pendency of the lawsuit. The ACLU was pleased with the Court’s rulings, which were issued on July 21, 2008.

“These rulings amount to a sweeping victory for women prisoners who have suffered grossly unfair and inhumane treatment at the hands of the Department of Corrections,” said Mie Lewis, lead ACLU counsel in the case. “We are delighted that after thoroughly analyzing the arguments on both sides, the Court has vindicated the rights of women prisoners.” The case is ongoing. See: Jones v. Hayman, Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County, Case No. C-123-07. The pleadings and rulings in the case are on PLN’s website.

Additional source: ACLU press release

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Related legal case

Jones v. Hayman