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New Jersey Begins Process to Design, Build New Women's Prison in Burlington County

Mon July 01, 2024 - Northeast Edition #15
New Jersey Department of Corrections

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The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) began an open solicitation for design consultation in mid-June that will be pivotal in providing architecture and engineering services for developing a new and modern women's correctional facility in the state.

"The release of the scope of work signifies a major milestone in the creation of a new women's prison that is trauma-informed with a normative design, centralized services and ample space for programs and amenities," according to a June 13 news release from NJDOC.

"This moment marks a significant step in developing an enhanced, safe and secure facility that meets the needs and expectations of a modern correctional facility," added Victoria L. Kuhn, the state agency's commissioner. "The construction of a purpose-built correctional facility will provide normative conditions that are conducive to rehabilitation, reentry and improved safety and security for the incarcerated women, staff and the community."

When New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy decided to shutter the troubled Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF) in June 2021, he promised to transform incarceration for women in the state and relocate the population to a more central location with greater access to major roadways, all while providing an environment more conducive to rehabilitation.

The closure of EMCF also is expected to save approximately $166 million in future capital projects and deferred maintenance costs that would have been otherwise necessary to keep the facility functional and ensure its long-term viability, the NJDOC statement read.

"With support from stakeholders and those close to corrections and incarcerated persons, the NJDOC has made monumental strides in improving the safety of, as well as services and culture for, incarcerated women," explained Helena Tomé, assistant commissioner of the agency's Division of Women's Services. "The newly proposed facility will help us to advance our mission by promoting a dignified, safe, secure, rehabilitative and gender informed environment while also fostering community reintegration."

The proposed women's prison will be strategically located on existing NJDOC property in Burlington County's Chesterfield Township, alongside the Garden State Correctional Facility, an active prison adjacent to the old Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility, closed in 2020.

The site was chosen after a thorough review of existing properties and facilities.

The 33-acre property offers a more centralized location than the Edna Mahan facility near Clinton and is close to major highways, including the New Jersey Turnpike. As a result, the new prison should allow for easier access for families to make visits, provide more significant staffing resources between multiple facilities and enable greater connection to nearby community resources.

New Jersey Spending $90M to Get Efforts Under Way

In the 2024 fiscal year, state officials in Trenton appropriated $90 million from New Jersey's Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund to begin the process of developing a new women's facility, NJDOC noted.

Over the past nine months, the state also established a collaborative and inter-agency working group to continue to advance the project through the planning and building stages.

The working group, which includes critical partners from the New Jersey Division of Property Management and Construction (DPMC) as well as the departments of Treasury, Environmental Protection, Community Affairs, and the NJDOC, among others, is diligently working through the many phases of review and planning in preparation for construction.

"We are thrilled to see NJDOC, and the State of New Jersey reaffirm their commitment to rehabilitation and reentry, honoring the dedication of those who have helped to propel this movement forward," said Bonnie Kerness, program director of American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch.

"The Edna Mahan Board of Trustees and the incarcerated persons we have worked with over the past several years are confident in [NJDOC's] valiant efforts. We anticipate these modern, normative settings will enable the incarcerated women to grow personally and build dignity and diligence in themselves in preparation for when they return to their communities."

The mission of the New Jersey Department of Corrections is advancing public safety and promoting successful reintegration in a dignified, safe, secure, rehabilitative and gender-informed environment, supported by a professional, trained and diverse workforce, enhanced by community engagement.

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