150 Years is Enough Campaign: FAQ

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice is leading a campaign to end youth incarceration in New Jersey and transform the juvenile justice system into a community-based system of care. Learn more about the campaign and how you can get involved.

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The goal of the 150 Years is Enough Campaign is to transform New Jersey’s youth incarceration system into a community-based system of care by closing two youth prisons—the New Jersey Training School for Boys (Jamesburg) and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (Hayes)—and investing in community-based programs. 

As it stands, New Jersey’s current youth incarceration system is a failed experiment—morally, financially, socially, and from a rehabilitation and public safety perspective. Indeed, even though Black and white kidscommit most offenses at similar rates, as of January 1, 2017, two-thirds of kids in New Jersey’s youth prisons are Black (148) and only 113 are white. And to achieve these racially discriminatory results, New Jersey spends over $200,000 to incarcerate each child for one year in a New Jersey youth prison.

No. Our current system is a revolving door of recidivism. The most recent recidivism statistics show that, of the approximately 500 young people released from commitment in state youth facilities in 2012, 80 percent had a new court filing/arrest, 68 percent had a new adjudication/conviction, and nearly 33 percent were recommitted within three years of release.

Studies show that long-term youth incarceration actually increases recidivism. Children who are incarcerated are more likely to be imprisoned and to live in poverty as adults. Put simply, this system does not promote public safety. Instead, it punishes children who need rehabilitation as they mature into adulthood.

We are advocating for a full evaluation of every child currently committed to a youth prison to determine who is in need of a secure environment. This process should establish community-based programming as the default, and a secure environment only as a last resort for public safety reasons. Importantly, research has shown that young people who have committed all ranges of offenses can benefit from community-based programming.

For those young people who may need to be placed in a secure environment for public safety reasons, these facilities should be publicly run, small, developmentally-appropriate, treatment-centered, and close to home and familial support. It may be possible to repurpose some existing buildings—such as the residential community homes run by the Juvenile Justice Commission—for these young people.

A child should not be placed in a prison cell because of their family circumstances.

For those children who cannot stay in their homes and receive community-based programming because they live in an unsafe home, a loving and stable environment should be found for them, as would be the practice for any child that has to be removed from an unsafe home.

Closing Jamesburg and Hayes should not result in an increase in waiver of kids to the adult system. Indeed, data from other states that have already decreased their use of youth facilities shows that this reduction did not increase the number of youth being waived into the adult system.

Closure of these facilities would also result in more, rather than fewer, options for youth who become involved in the justice system. With a fulsome reinvestment of funds into community-based programs, prosecutors will have the option to place our young people in even more effective, treatment-focused community-based programs with wrap-around services in the first instance, rather than incarceration being the default for far too many kids. And, in the case where a young person may need to be in a more secure setting for public safety reasons, the new transformative youth justice system would involve small, treatment-focused facilities based on a rehabilitative model, not adult facilities. This transformative model could involve utilization and renovation of the state’s residential community homes or the repurposing of other current buildings to achieve this vision.

No. We seek a publicly-run, government-regulated system that is child-centered, not profit driven. We advocate for meaningful, public jobs for workers and a more humane, treatment-focused justice system for our young people. We want to work with all stakeholders—including employee unions—to create a truly just youth justice system.

As of January 1, 2017, there were 222 youth in New Jersey’s three youth prisons, which is less than half their maximum combined capacity of 511 youth. At that time, there were only nine girls in Hayes.

Even though Black and white kids commit similar offenses at similar rates, two-thirds of kids in New Jersey’s youth prisons are Black. By contrast, less than six percent of kids in youth prison in the state, or 13 kids, are white, as of January 1, 2017. This gives New Jersey the third-highest Black/white youth incarceration disparity rate in the nation.

In New Jersey, it costs more than $200,000 to incarcerate one child in a youth prison for one year.

Currently, the state spends about $60 million to fund its three youth prisons. By contrast, the state spends only around $8 million to provide counties with funds for community programming through the state/community partnership program.  

In addition to Jamesburg and Hayes, the state also operates a third youth prison: the Juvenile Medium Security Facility.

Transforming New Jersey’s youth justice system is a multi-step and evolving process, with both short-term and long-term goals. Over time, we seek to transform the entire system, including assessing the Juvenile Medium Security Facility and the youth housed there to ensure alignment with national best practices.

In the short term, the campaign seeks to close Hayes, which houses only a handful of girls at a cost of millions of dollars a year, and Jamesburg, the largest facility for boys in the state. By closing these two facilities, and reinvesting these funds into community-based programs, we can create a framework that will allow us to transform what youth justice looks like for all of our state’s incarcerated youth.

Community groups, faith leaders, advocates, families, and youth have joined the campaign. In addition, over 40 organizations have signed onto a letter to our elected leaders joining our call to close Jamesburg and Hayes, including the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, the ACLU of New Jersey, the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, Faith in New Jersey, and the Drug Policy Alliance.

As we collectively reimagine our youth justice system, everyone must be at the table—justice-involved youth and their families, advocates, attorneys, unions, faith leaders, and researchers—to create a system that recognizes and protects the potential, possibility, and dignity of every child.

Transformational change will come, as it always has, from the ground up in our communities. We invite you to join us.

Please contact Juvenile Justice Campaign Manager Retha Onitiri at ronitiri@njisj.org about volunteering or becoming a Campaign Advocate.

Campaign Advocates are asked to possess a basic understanding of the youth justice system in New Jersey. (Institute staff is happy to work with prospective Advocates and teach them about the system.) Advocates are expected to:

Campaign Advocates are asked to possess a basic understanding of the youth justice system in New Jersey. (Institute staff is happy to work with prospective Advocates and teach them about the system.) Advocates are expected to:

· Recruit volunteers to support the campaign;
· Disseminate information;
· Assist with, support, and/or co-sponsor Campaign rallies and events; and
· Assist with advocacy work around equitable funding for community-based programming and legislative advocacy.

Faith leaders have been instrumental in the campaign to close Jamesburg and Hayes. Faith Justice New Jersey is a coalition of faith leaders committed to transforming New Jersey’s youth justice system. To join, please email the Institute’s Communications Director Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg at ewgreenberg@njisj.org.

Please read these pieces by faith leaders about why there is a moral imperative to close New Jersey youth prisons, which are available on the Institute website: 

The Jewish Imperative to Fight Youth Incarceration

Star Ledger Reports on Faith Leaders’ Call to Close Youth Prisons

Pastors Timothy Jones and Terry Richardson Write for the Star Ledger on Youth Incarceration

Below is a list of resources on New Jersey’s youth justice system, which are all available on the Institute website. You are also welcome to contact Juvenile Justice Campaign Manager Retha Onitiri atronitiri@njisj.org. To schedule a speaker about the youth justice system for your organization, school, or house of worship, please contact the Institute’s Communications Director Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg atewgreenberg@njisj.org.

Bring Our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child

Media Round-Up: #150yearsisenough Campaign Launch

Ryan P. Haygood: Close these 2 youth prisons, make system community-based

Andrea McChristian: The Forgotten Ones: New Jersey’s Locked Up Girls