Embattled NJ Department of Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks resigns
Former inmates of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, located in Union Township, Hunterdon Conty, testify about alleged instances of sexual abuse and harassment before a committee in the New Jersey Senate in February.
Marcus Hicks, the embattled commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, announced his resignation Tuesday, a day after Gov. Phil Murphy announced the long-troubled Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County will close.
Hicks' resignation, effective June 18, came after the state on Monday released an investigative report on the Jan. 11 cell extractions at the facility that have led to criminal charges against several guards who allegedly used excessive force. Ten officers so far have been charged.
The charges in connection with the Jan. 11 incident were the latest in a series of criminal charges, including sexual assault, brought in recent years against guards at the facility plagued by corruption and abuse.
“Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women has a long history of abusive incidents predating our administration, and we must now commit ourselves to completely breaking this pattern of misconduct to better serve incarcerated women entrusted to the state’s care," Murphy said in a statement Monday announcing the closure.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to have served the Murphy administration and the people of New Jersey as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections for the past three years,” Hicks said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and wish our staff and individuals under our care well as the department continues its mission to ensure safety and promote rehabilitation.”
Victoria Kuhn, the current chief of staff for the Department of Corrections, will serve as acting commissioner.
When asked at a news conference Monday whether he planned to make personnel changes at the Department of Corrections, Murphy refused to comment.
Democratic lawmakers welcomed Hicks' resignation.
"With the commissioner’s announcement, New Jersey will be able to turn the page on the deeply disturbing culture of systemic abuse and violence that has pervaded Edna Mahan’s history," Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a statement “Charting a responsible path forward, a path that offers respect and dignity to the women, and that safeguards the well-being of all those in the care of the state’s correctional facilities is the foundation on which we move forward.”
In a joint statement, Democrats Gabriela Mosquera, Gloucester; Lisa Swain, Bergen; and Angela McKnight, Hudson, of the Assembly Women and Children Committee, said, “The commissioner’s resignation is necessary to usher in new leadership that can help prevent these kinds of human rights violations from ever taking place again. We must restore the rights of prisoners who have endured abuse for far too long by ensuring they are treated with respect and dignity going forward."
But Republican legislators said more needs to be done to stop abuse in the corrections system, and Hicks should have been replaced earlier.
“The resignation of Commissioner Hicks only addresses half of the leadership failure in the Murphy administration that allowed the abuses and sexual assaults at Edna Mahan to continue for too long,” Sen. Kristin Corrado. R- Passaic, said in a statement.
"It took Gov. Murphy far too long to move on from Commissioner Hicks, and I have to think about all the women who continued to suffer during his indecision," Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield. R-Burlington, said in a statement. "Commissioner Hicks stepping down is vindication for the many women who were sexually and physically abused by guards at Edna Mahan.
"This is a victory for them, but we have to continue to question why it takes Murphy so long to act when women are being harmed under his watch."
In May 2018, Murphy named Hicks as acting commissioner of the Department of Corrections, replacing the retiring Gary M. Lanigan.
Hicks, who served two governors and two Cabinet-level commissioners, was chief of staff of the Department of Corrections when he was appointed.
Before that, Hicks was the Department of Corrections director of programs and community services where he had oversight of $64.5 million, in the procurement and contracting process of re-entry services to approximately 2,800 inmates at 18 residential community release programs across New Jersey.
In addition, Hicks directed the Office of County Services, which is responsible for conducting annual inspections of the 22 county prisons and 376 municipal detention facilities throughout the state.
He also served as assistant division director of the Office of Transitional Services, the office responsible for providing comprehensive reentry services to inmates upon entry to prison until their reintegration back into the community.
The state Department of Corrections agreed earlier this year to a nearly $21 million settlement to resolve more than 22 civil lawsuits filed by current and former inmates alleging abuse at Edna Mahan.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.