🔴 Many investigations into abuse were not completed, watchdog finds

🔴 Witnesses of abuse weren't interviewed

🔴 Report focuses on time before reforms, DOC says

MAURICE RIVER — When a correctional officer attacks an inmate at a New Jersey prison, the state doesn't always bother to fully investigate, according to a new report from the comptroller's office.

This allows prison guards to get away with using excessive force and other abuses of power, the report said.

The OSC looked over 46 cases at three prisons of internal investigations into accusations of assault, excessive force, and violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act against corrections officers at three state prisons, according to the report.

There were significant issues with the DOC Special Investigations Division including missing evidence and a failure to follow investigative procedures, the report said.

Read More: NJ youth detention center had 'culture of abuse' — new lawsuit

(NJ Office of the State Comptroller)
(NJ Office of the State Comptroller)

Report focuses on time before reforms, DOC says

The OSC said its report sampled cases from 2018 to 2022. But the Department of Corrections has since made major changes, according to spokesperson Dan Sperrazza.

"This Department upholds a zero-tolerance policy against abuse, exploitation, and excessive force toward incarcerated individuals and is staunchly committed to ensuring the safety, dignity, and rehabilitation of all those in custody," said Sperrazza.

New Jersey has made significant updates to its policies over the past three years to reform its prisons and the culture within them, Sperrazza said. And there's been a special focus to restructure the Special Investigations Division.

"This includes creating an Assistant Commissioner position to oversee the unit, implementing body-worn cameras, establishing a Special Victims Unit and SID Training and Recruitment Unit, and introducing new policies aimed at enhancing investigative procedures and conflict of interest policies," said Sperrazza.

New Jersey State Prison in Trenton (Google Maps)
New Jersey State Prison in Trenton (Google Maps)

Major problems in NJ prison abuse investigations

Of the 46 sample cases, SID investigators didn't interview key witnesses in 10 instances — skipping what the OSC called a "most basic investigatory step."

Investigators also didn't bother to interview guards with connections to eight of those incidents, according to the OSC.

In eight of those cases, the SID investigator failed to interview a correctional police officer who was either assisting the subject of the investigation or located in immediate proximity to the incident.

And in 13% of cases, the watchdog found that key evidence was missing from case files.

The OSC determined the frequent mistakes resulted from unclear rules, poor training, and a "code of silence" among prison guards.

(NJ Office of the State Comptroller)
(NJ Office of the State Comptroller)

Bayside State Prison abuse on surveillance footage

The OSC on Wednesday also released video footage from two incidents at Bayside State Prison in Maurice River that the watchdog says shows guards attacking inmates. The footage does not include audio.

In both cases, the correctional officers told investigators that the inmates made threats before being attacked. However, video from both incidents shows neither of the inmates acted on those threats if they were made.

In an incident from 2019, video shows a guard punching an inmate before tackling him to the ground. The other incident from 2018 involved a guard using pepper spray on an inmate.

Several witnesses were not interviewed, according to the report.

None of the officers involved received any discipline, the OSC said.

Report a correction | Contact our newsroom

NJ schools that made the most calls to police

These are the 30 schools in New Jersey that made the most notifications to police during the 2022-23 school year for reasons including violence, weapons, vandalism, substances and harassment or bullying. The number of arrests made by police at the schools is also provided when applicable. The schools are listed by number of police calls from least to greatest. The data comes from the state Department of Education's annual School Performance Report.

Gallery Credit: New Jersey 101.5

States with best and worst lifetime tax burden

Here's a look at U.S. states with the lowest lifetime tax burden and the highest, as analyzed by Self Financial — and just where New Jersey ranks, nationwide.

Gallery Credit: Erin Vogt

More From WPG Talk Radio 95.5 FM