BRIDGETON, NJ — A group of demonstrators gathered outside South Woods State Prison today to protest the inhumane treatment of prisoners inside. The protestors say their loved ones on the inside have faced abuse and retaliation for making administrative complaints about their conditions.
South Woods State Prison is a medium and maximum security men’s facility that houses 3,327 inmates. Protestors allege violation of their loved ones’ human rights as well as disciplinary and retaliatory rape coordinated by correctional officers.
“In prison I lived under a lawless roof,” said Nestor Martinez, who was recently paroled from South Woods in March.
“It is tough to follow every extra minimal rule, but the ones who are supposed to protect you can bypass any rule, even if it goes against their oath to serve and protect.”
Martinez says he was outed as gay by the correctional officers at South Woods and was put in solitary confinement naked for 48 hours in retaliation for filing a complaint about it under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. He also said he endured days of extreme heat when administrators refused to turn on the air conditioning because it “wasn’t summer enough.”
COVID’s Blank Check for Prison Cruelty
Protestors circulated a petition calling for an independent audit of the facility and for policy changes with external oversight. They say their inmates are subject to brutal conditions in South Woods that have only worsened since Governor Phil Murphy issued Executive Orders related to stopping the COVID-19 pandemic. Their loved ones have been deprived of showers, air, and phone calls with no clear rationale.
Non-emergency prison transport has been shut down, preventing dozens of inmates from across the state from accessing necessary medical care in off-site facilities. Additionally, they say prison administration and correctional officers have taken their increased authority to manage the pandemic as a blank check to brutalize prisoners under the guise of discipline.
On April 9, over 60 quarantined inmates formed a blockade inside South Woods protesting the transportation of infected inmates to the unit from other facilities and being locked down in their cells for weeks at a time. The next day, Governor Murphy signed an executive order paroling certain inmates early and releasing at-risk inmates to emergency medical home confinement.
“Blatant Disregard for Their Humanity”
Rasheeda Mills, who organized the protest on Facebook, said, “At times like this we have to come together to suppress injustices, violations of inmates rights, and blatant disregard for their humanity.”
Mills lives in Henrico County, Virginia and is awaiting her fiancée’s release. They were due to be married on April 3, but Governor Murphy’s restrictions forced them to indefinitely postpone their plans.
Her fiancée’s grandmother passed from COVID without being able to see him. She says she doesn’t want other inmates to have to face that turmoil and hopes New Jersey will allow video visitation as other states have done.
“We just want our loved ones to do their prison sentence and not be victims of injustice or placed in harm’s way due to COVID,” said Mills.
“Enough is enough, and if we don’t speak now and make changes, I’m like will he even make it to prepare another date to get married?”