Who is Jane Parnell? The powerful new monitor for the struggling NJ Women’s Prison.

Laurie Dawson was worried.

Around 2013 in Washington, an incarcerated friend was threatened by an officer, so Dawson wrote to Corrections. Prisons can be black boxes of information, but Dawson received a callback from the facility director, who asked Dawson to join a volunteer advisory board.

The two ended up meeting regularly for the next two years.

“As a superintendent, she was ready to take criticism and understand it,” Dawson recalled in a recent interview.

Several years later and on the opposite coast, this administrator is now one of the most important figures in a complex and costly overhaul of the scandal-ridden New Jersey Women’s Prison.

Jane Parnell officially became federal supervisor at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility on August 24, when a federal judge signed a consent order between New Jersey and the US Department of Justice.

For at least the next three years, Parnell will oversee reforms aimed at reversing years of well-documented violence and sexual abuse at Hunterdon County Jail. She can make unannounced visits and has wide access to internal files. She will make regular public reports, and neither New Jersey prison officials nor the Department of Justice will have control over those reports.

While a federal judge has the final say on whether the prison achieves its goals, the court’s understanding of what goes behind bars will be shaped by Parnell.

In interviews, people who have worked with Parnell over a decades-long career in the Washington corrections system have generally praised her as being deliberative, attentive, and open to contributions from a variety of sources.

Its selection also illustrates how a network of well-connected consultants influences prison policy at both local and national level.

Parnell is originally from the Pacific Northwest.

In 1974, she graduated from Central Washington University with a sociology degree, according to a school spokesperson.

She joined the state payroll a few years later, where she made a good impression on Carol Porter.

In the 1980s, Porter ran the Tacoma Pre-Release Center, which housed people nearing the end of their sentence. Parnell effectively supervised prisoners as a probation and parole officer, according to Porter, and later helped develop a program to send officers to communities to meet people who could not travel easily.

When Porter took over the state’s largest women’s prison in 2006, she was happy to find Parnell already there as an associate superintendent.

The Washington Corrections Center for Women is on a peninsula in Gig Harbor, about an hour south of Seattle. Her current capacity is around 900, similar to Edna Mahan, according to state data.

“She knew more about this setup than I did,” Porter said. “She helped guide me through a lot of the things that were happening there.”

Parnell has already helped ease tensions among staff when a food official came under investigation, Porter said. Before this man left his post, Parnell both met with employees concerned about the investigation and put an end to the rumors.

Parnell was ultimately promoted to head two men’s facilities, Ahtanum View Correctional Center and later Cedar Creek Correctional Center, according to spokesperson Rachel Ericson.

In the summer of 2010, Parnell returned to the women’s prison as superintendent.

The facility was overcapacity the month of its arrival, with an average of 137 more people than expected.

Although this problem persisted during its five years of occupation, the facility still hosted a range of programs, including Tedx speakers and university courses through the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound.

“She certainly paved the way (…)” Would I say she is the most innovative and creative visionary I have ever worked with? I would say no, but I would say she was at least open to new programs and ideas.

Every week, Parnell went through each unit with a notepad, according to Tanya Quinata, who was incarcerated at the facility from 2012 to 2019. Parnell wrote down any issues she saw and seemed to really listen to the prisoners, said Quinata.

When a snowstorm closed a nearby bridge, a government bulletin reported that Parnell spent four nights at the facility to help compensate for the “skeletal staff.”

“She was the best superintendent while I was there,” Quinata said.

Parnell has spoken publicly on the need to deal with imprisoned women differently from men.

“You don’t have a lot of power, you don’t have a lot of control, and so few things take on huge importance,” she said. once told a reporter with public radio KUOW. Even inexpensive changes, like providing better clothes, could have big ripple effects, she said. “If we can sort out these little things, then women can focus on these bigger issues, things like, what got them to jail in the first place? “

When reached by phone, Parnell declined a request for an interview, citing the consent decree. (The deal prevents him from speaking about Edna Mahan without court approval, although it does not explicitly prohibit speaking about other matters.)

Parnell retired in 2015. She became a consultant for The Moss Group the following year.

The Washington DC society advises prison executives nationwide, and it has since completed work in New Mexico, conducted training in pennsylvania and advised Los Angeles County how to better care for women who have suffered trauma, according to local and state organizations. Another federal comptroller hired her to develop a staffing plan for a notorious women’s facility in Alabama, court records show.

Last year, New Jersey also hired The Moss Group to help negotiate reforms with the Department of Justice.

The consent decree prohibits Parnell from accepting consulting work that would create a “conflict of interest” with her supervisory work, and she was not part of Moss’ work with Edna Mahan, according to Donna Deutsch, director the commercial development of the company.

In October, Parnell was only completing some “minimal work” for the out-of-state company, Deutsch wrote in an email.

Parnell is also related to Personal Development Consultants, Inc., a for-profit Washington-based firm formed to advise public and private organizations. Annual reports show Parnell has been with the group since at least 1999 and is listed as president in the company’s most recent disclosure, but state files offer little further detail.

As a monitor, Parnell reports to US District Judge Zahid Quraishi.

Although she is not a state employee, New Jersey taxpayers still pay her $ 200 an hour.

While much of her work over the next few months will be remote, her first two visits to Edna Mahan were scheduled for October, according to court documents.

Public records show Parnell lives in Washington, so she budgeted $ 800 for the plane ticket, $ 700 for a rental car, and over $ 1,000 for a hotel, among other expenses.

The costs of consent decrees can cause friction with local leaders. Newark Police are under a similar deal, and the Newark mayor has clashed publicly with their instructor for the duration of federal surveillance.

Representatives from New Jersey prisons and the Department of Justice declined to comment on why they agreed to hire Parnell, but it can’t hurt that his freshman budget (over $ 184,000) is much lower. maximum of a quarter of a million dollars fixed by the agreement. Its rate is also significantly lower than what outside lawyers charge to defend the state against multiple lawsuits alleging abuse behind bars.

Parnell is currently reviewing New Jersey’s prison policies and officials aim to complete the rewrites by August 2022.

The consent decree also requires regular public meetings, and the first is tentatively scheduled for February, according to a prison spokeswoman.

It will be up to Parnell to attend.

Editor NJ Advance Media Research Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.

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Blake Nelson can be reached at bnelson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BCunninghamN.

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