TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice will investigate potential civil rights violations at a New Jersey women's prison where eight employees have been charged with sexually abusing inmates in recent years.
New Jersey's corrections department announced the investigation into the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women on Wednesday. It will be conducted by the Justice Department's civil rights division in conjunction with the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey and state and local authorities.
In the last two years, eight prison employees have been charged with sexually abusing inmates. Last week, a former senior officer at the prison was convicted of counts including sexual assault, criminal sexual contact and official misconduct.
Jason Mays was found not guilty on 10 other counts. His attorney maintained during the trial that the women had fabricated the charges.
Another former employee pleaded guilty last year to sexually abusing an inmate.
The federal investigation will review whether conditions at the prison reflect systemic violations of inmates' constitutional rights. Investigators plan to interview officers and local officials as well as inmates, observe officer activities and review documents and specific incidents.
"The New Jersey Department of Corrections looks forward to cooperating and collaborating closely with the Department of Justice to remedy any unlawful practices that may be found," acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks said in a statement.
The Mahan facility, which is about 50 miles 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.
Fidel Castro granted her asylum and she has lived there under the name Assata Shakur. She was the first woman placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List