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SUTA: Criminal justice reform starts in our backyard

Column: The Suta Slant

The only women's correctional facility in New Jersey must be reformed or closed, for the sake of its inmates. – Photo by Pixabay.com

If you have not already done so, you should read this recent The Daily Targum editorial. In it, the Targum lays out the crisis of criminal justice, especially the carceral state. The editorial does a good job at laying out the faults in large scale problems and problematic prisons, namely Rikers Island in New York. But, New Jersey has our own criminal justice crisis. 

In fact, New Jersey has a crisis on its hands: the scandal-ridden, abusive, inhumane Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women has exemplified the problems in criminal justice and has made clear the disgusting cultures that permeate the carceral state. 

Edna Mahan is the only women’s correctional facility in New Jersey. And it has a disgusting history of sexual and physical abuse, cover-ups and blatant abuses of power. Edna Mahan has been the center of several investigations, it was even investigated, and found to be violating the constitutional rights of the inmates, by the U.S. Department of Justice

Though the Department of Justice's report ignited some pushes for change, it was not until an investigation, headed by the law firm, Lowenstein Sandler, was published that Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced the closure of the facility

This all happened this past summer, but because Edna Mahan is the only women’s-only corrections facility in the state, it has not been closed due to logistical problems. While this is problematic on its own, the infuriating thing is that abuse is still happening at Edna Mahan. 

A corrections officer was recently arrested for sexually abusing an inmate in September: after the reports, after the announced closure, after the supposed commitment to changing the culture of prisons. 

This is infuriating to me. Edna Mahan has been repeatedly singled out, has been the focus of many investigations and yet nothing is changing. Tax payers’ money has not only gone toward financing these investigations, but we also continue to pay the brutes who abuse these vulnerable women. 

Jack Ciattarelli talked incessantly about taxes in New Jersey — will he and other Republicans begin to take the flaws of the criminal justice system seriously, if for no other reason taxpayers' money finances such abuses? Murphy talks about moving New Jersey forward — he can move New Jersey forward by moving to finally and fully close Edna Mahan. 

Should Edna Mahan be closed, it must only be the start. We need serious commitments from those in government to reevaluate current formulations of the criminal justice system. As the Targum’s editorial pointed out, we need to focus on rehabilitation, not simple punishment. 

Sometimes it might feel that as college students we are too far removed from problems like criminal justice reform, but the problems do not exist in some distant place or some abstract realm — abuses of the criminal justice system exist in New Jersey. In fact, Edna Mahan, in Clinton, New Jersey, is only approximately a 35 minute drive from Rutgers—New Brunswick. 

Thirty-five minutes and two totally different worlds. 

We can begin to push our elected representatives for a fairer criminal justice system — a criminal justice system that does not perpetuate violence but rather uproots such systems of violence. 

As we emerge as the next generation of people who lead the country, who make decisions, who have a greater impact on policy, we should keep these issues in mind and we should continue to keep ourselves informed on these issues. 

As students, we have an ability to engage critically with material that informs how we see the world and how we understand such systems of violence. Courses in the criminal justice program might shed light on some of these problems and encourage us to be more mindful. 

While we should be engaged, some of the violence, some of the horrors, cannot be expressed in words. Our language does not have the capability to express the horrors so many have faced, not just at Edna Mahan but throughout the world as victims of the carceral state. 

Herman Melville, a great American novelist, once wrote, “How feeble is all language to describe the horrors we inflict upon these wretches, whom we mason up in the cells of our prisons, and condemn to perpetual solitude in the very heart of our population.”

Language does not do justice to the horrors. When language does not do justice, something must change, and it does not seem our language will be changing anytime soon. Let us continue to demand for criminal justice reforms, and let us begin that process 35 minutes away, at Edna Mahan. 

Richard Suta is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and political science with a minor in French. His column, "The Suta Slant," runs on alternate Tuesdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 900 words. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 900 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to oped@dailytargum.com by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day’s publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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