The decision came in the wake of a damning report prepared by a former state comptroller and an outside law firm. The report detailed the events that took place at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility on Jan. 11, when officers conducting a “forced cell extraction” catalyzed a night of violence, with officers using excessive force on the incarcerated women. In total, six women were injured: one was concussed; another suffered a broken eye socket, according to the New York Times. Bonnie Kerness, director of the American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch, later received a letter from the prison reading, “Please send help. They are really seriously beating these women to death.”
Weeks later 34 prison staff members were suspended and charged with 10 crimes between them. One officer was charged with aggravated assault for punching a woman 28 times while she was pinned against a cell wall.
The report also discusses the sexual abuse and mistreatment that predates the January attacks, which rose to the level of requiring a Department of Justice investigation in 2020. Between 2016 and 2018, seven employees were charged with sexual abuse-related crimes.
“After reading the report and its recommendations, I have decided that the only path forward is to responsibly close the facility,” Murphy said. The state, he said, must dedicate itself to “completely breaking this pattern of misconduct to better serve incarcerated women entrusted to the state’s care.”
But it’s hard to imagine what could break this pattern; the pattern is that all prisons are hostile to human rights, even when their abuses are less overt than the ones that occurred at Edna Mahan. Murphy said that the 384 women currently incarcerated there would be relocated to “other facilities” or placed in a new prison—which would involve building a new prison. It is willfully naive to think that the same abuses would not simply be reenacted in a new building. (Not to mention that the closure of Edna Mahan is expected to take several years.)
“The beatings were a condition of confinement having nothing to do with the physical structure,” Kerness told the Times.