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Tia Ryans Appointed to EMCF Board of Trustees

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

On February 16, 2022, Governor Murphy announced the appointment of 6 women to the Board of Trustees of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility (EMCF). They include a medical doctor, a professor of Sociology, prison abolition advocates, non-profit leaders, and the FIRST formerly incarcerated person to serve on any New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) advisory board: Tia Ryans. Governor Murphy also re-appointed one former member of the Board as well. Read the full announcement from Governor Murphy here.

“Today marks a historical moment not only for myself but for every man and woman that is justice impacted (those living and those who've transitioned) throughout the country!,” Tia said. “I wholeheartedly appreciate my appointment as a Board of Trustee member and look forward to having a role in genuine reform anchored by pragmatic, transformative justice.”

The Board of Trustees oversees all aspects of the operations of the prison and makes recommendations to DOC leadership toward realizing its stated mission: operating safe and humane correctional facilities and delivering effective treatment of those currently incarcerated, and services that promote successful reentry into society.

Among the six new Board appointees, Bonnie Kerness is a long-time supporter and friend of FORTE House and of All of Us or None - Northern NJ (the chapter Tia Ryans founded of the national organization). She has been a leader and front line advocate of those who are justice-impacted for decades. Bonnie observed, “This Board establishes civilian oversight, which is what advocates have been asking for, for years!” While organizations like the Prison Watch Program of The American Friends Service Committee, where Bonnie serves as Director, work to monitor and report on conditions inside prisons, they don’t have a direct line to decisions-makers to facilitate critical change. “We need to ensure that this new–and unique–civilian oversight board has the ‘teeth’ to effect lasting change.

And it’s an opportunity to ensure that legislation is implemented effectively.”

Bonnie also noted that Tia’s appointment to the board is “absolutely revolutionary,” and that bringing a civilian with lived experience onto the Board is crucial to its effectiveness.

Another new Board Member is Professor Johanna Foster of Monmouth University, whose expertise spans intersectional feminist theories of inequality; identity and social movements; and the ethics and politics of mass incarceration with an emphasis on women in confinement. She was also the co-founder of the Clinton College Bound Consortium, the precursor to New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP), which provides college degree programs within NJ prisons. And, she was one of Tia’s professors at EMCF, many years ago.

“I am thrilled to be working with Tia in our new roles as members of the Board of Trustees,” Dr. Foster said. “The Commissioner and the Governor can be applauded for including Tia as a central voice in this next chapter of the critical work to be done, both to bring about systemic change and to take on the more immediate and pressing challenges of ensuring the health and safety of Edna Mahan residents. The fact that Tia’s voice is there as a returning citizen, as someone who has been a leader on the inside and on the outside, is a testament to the sea change that is before us.” Dr. Foster added that when she learned that justice-impacted women were going to be included as leaders in the work, she was motivated to accept her own appointment to the Board as well.

Dr. Foster noted that the combination of skills and experience that the new Board members bring is exceptional. ”We have leaders from the medical field, leaders who are community activists, a leader with direct experience of incarceration and reentry, academics with a feminist lens on systemic inequalities, transgender people who can bring a particular lens around intersectionality that has not been considered in the past. Together, we have a wealth of experience in listening to and learning from women and gender-nonbinary and transgender folks on the inside. And, as we’re new to the Board, we also look forward to learning from the Trustees who have been reappointed. So it’s a unique constellation.”

. The first meeting of the Board of Trustees is likely to take place virtually in the coming month, as the members get to know one another and begin to shape priorities.

Tia’s personal statement on her participation concludes with: “Adding the voice of those directly impacted to this Board is a monumental step as Governor Phil Murphy and Commissioner Kuhn continue to reform the state's injustice system. I am HUMBLED to represent the women at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.”


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