Staff in a New Jersey prison have encouraged inmates to physically fight each other, according to complaints and allegations reported by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg in a February 2023 article published by the Appeal. The New Jersey Office of the Corrections Ombudsperson, which provides oversight of prisons to protect incarcerated peoples’ safety, health, and well-being, informed the Appeal that staff in the South Woods State Prison’s Restorative Housing Unit are allegedly “committing acts of violence and egging on fights between incarcerated people,” Weill-Greenberg reported.
According to Ombudsperson Terry Schuster his office forwarded five such complaints to the Department of Corrections’ Special Investigations Division for formal investigation. In email to the Appeal, Schuster wrote that “several people” in the RHU had “alleged incidents” that “suggested a pattern” of security staff misconduct.
In a written response, the Department of Corrections (DOC) acknowledged its awareness of “talk in the community about allegations of a fight club in prison,” but dismissed the accusations as “false rumors.”
Weill-Greenburg also reported allegations of guards subjecting prisoners to “violence, threats, harassment, disrespect, and retaliation” in the Restorative Housing Unit at South Woods.
New Jersey implemented Restorative Housing Units (RHUs) in 2021 after the state enacted a law limiting the use of “isolated confinement,” specified as more than 20 hours in a cell during a 24-hour period. However, as Weill-Greenberg reported, “Local advocates say the RHU is the DOC’s euphemism for solitary confinement.”
“The only thing that the DOC did was to change the name of the administrative segregation housing units to ‘Restorative Housing Units,’” Amos Caley, an organizer for the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, explained in an email to the Appeal. “Isolated confinement and the culture of brutality continues unchecked.”
Although the New York Times has previously reported on male guards charged with beating female inmates in the Restorative Housing Unit of New Jersey’s Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women, as of April 2023, the allegations reported by Weill-Greenberg appear not to have been covered by any establishment news outlets.
Source: Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, “New Jersey Prison Staff Pushing Incarcerated People To Fight, Complaints Allege,” The Appeal, February 9, 2023.
Student Researchers: Jason Maysonet, Anetia Rom, and Alexa Sortino (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)