TRENTON - The New Jersey Superior Court today Issued an Opinion that stops the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) from transferring any more women prisoners to the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), a maximum-security men's prison, until the resolution of an ongoing legal battle over previous unlawful transfers. The court also granted the women's request to pursue their claims as a class action. In addition, the court denied a motion by the DOC, brought on five separate legal grounds, to dismiss the women prisoners' complaint, and also rejected the DOC's motion to summarily terminate the case.
"This is a great first step toward getting these women out of conditions that no one should be forced to endure," said Ed Barocas, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. "When the court issues its final ruling we expect to see a permanent stop to the arbitrary transfer of women to the men's prison, an end to their inhumane conditions and the DOC penalized for its wrongdoing."
The class action lawsuit, Jones v. Hayman, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in December 2007, challenges the DOC's transfer of a group of women prisoners to NJSP, where women are denied basic movement in the prison and barred from the prison's main yard, deprived of access to the prison law library and the prison school and denied access to basic hygiene. The suit charges that the women's transfer and their oppressive conditions of confinement were unconstitutional and discriminatory based on their sex.
"The underbelly of this issue is over-incarceration," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Until we find alternatives to locking people up, we're going to see an increase in cases of abuse in prisons. We need to be smart on crime, not soft on crime."
In March, evidence emerged that James Drumm, Assistant Administrator of the New Jersey State Prison, offered women prisoners reductions in their disciplinary sentences in exchange for making false statements describing conditions as better than they were. After one prisoner in disciplinary segregation told the ACLU about the offer, she was beaten by a prison guard, according to her sworn statement and those of three other women prisoners.
In later statements to the court, women prisoners described a campaign of intimidation intended to punish and silence women who spoke out. Other sworn statements of women prisoners described bullying and intimidation carried out by the internal affairs unit of the DOC, the Special Investigations Division (SID).
"These rulings amount to a sweeping victory for women prisoners who have suffered grossly unfair and inhumane treatment," said Mie Lewis, ACLU counsel for the case. "We are delighted that after thoroughly analyzing the arguments on both sides, the court has vindicated the rights of women prisoners."
On Tuesday, July 22, the DOC agreed to withdraw the statements obtained by James Drumm from the record and to provide the ACLU with further evidence concerning the alleged official misconduct. Previously, at an April 11, 2008 court hearing, corrections officials agreed to withdraw medical and psychiatric evidence that the ACLU alleged had been collected in violation of court rules and ethical standards.