On June 28, 2017, more than 300 people gathered outside the gates of the New Jersey Training School for Boys ("Jamesburg") to say: 150 years is enough. Close Jamesburg. Close Hayes (Female Secure Care and Intake Facility.)
“On June 28, 1867, Jamesburg opened its doors,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Institute President and CEO. “And on June 28, 2017, we will launch a campaign outside of Jamesburg’s prison doors to declare that 150 years of youth incarceration is enough. We are lifting our collective voices to transform New Jersey's youth incarceration system into a community-based system of care. We must make sure that our youth receive the rehabilitation they need, so that they can mature and grow into responsible adults. That is not happening in the current system.”
New Jersey's juvenile justice system is plagued by extreme racial disparities. Out of the 222 youth who are incarcerated in the state's three youth prisons, as of January 1, 2017, just 13 are white, despite research that shows Black and white youth have similar rates of offending.
“We must move to a system where every child is treated like a child, regardless of race,” said Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian, primary author of a report on New Jersey’s juvenile justice system, Bring Our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child.
Recognizing New Jersey’s youth prison system as a moral stain on our state, several faith leaders will stand outside Jamesburg on Wednesday to declare that 150 years is enough.
“It’s time to stop using Black children to feed the prison economy and start using those same dollars to invest in the mental, spiritual, behavioral, and educational economy of Black children,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, founder of Salvation and Social Justice and Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury. “Like slavery, youth incarceration in New Jersey is a system that is based on the exploitation of Black bodies. And like slavery, this morally bankrupt system cannot be reformed. It must be abolished.”
More than forty organizations, including the NAACP State Conference, the ACLU of New Jersey, the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, the Drug Policy Alliance, Faith in New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and My Brother's Keeper-Newark have also joined the call to close New Jersey’s youth prisons. These organizations have signed onto a letter supporting this campaign to close Jamesburg and Hayes, and to reinvest in a community-based system of care. (The full list of signatories can be found here.)
“It is time to fundamentally shift the focus from punishing young people to investing in reforms where troubled youth get the services and treatment they need to stay out of trouble and mature into productive adults,” said Mary Coogan, Vice President of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “We are failing our children and the community when 80 percent of incarcerated youth are arrested again once they are released.”
Community-based programs with wrap-around services have proven to be more effective in reducing recidivism than incarceration.
And for those young people who may need to be placed in secure confinement for public safety reasons, we must make sure that that these facilities are small, publicly operated, developmentally appropriate, and treatment centered, and provide wrap-around services that are close to home and familial support—not faraway youth prisons. These publicly-run facilities should be staffed with public workers who are dedicated to the full rehabilitation of our children and to creating a more humane, treatment-focused justice system.
"All of our children deserve a second chance," said Retha Onitiri, the Juvenile Justice Campaign Manager. "There are no throwaway children."
“We can keep our communities safe without resorting to locking up young people in ineffective youth prisons,” said Liz Ryan, Executive Director of Youth First, a national leader in ending youth incarceration. “It is unconscionable that, in states across the country, putting kids in prison is routine. Today, families, young people and community members have come together to show that this is no longer acceptable in New Jersey. We’re determined to invest in alternatives that are grounded in our communities and are proven to work better – and the people of New Jersey will be better off thanks to this effort."
"Youth incarceration is a fundamentally broken system that perpetuates racial inequalities and steals young peoples' economic futures,” echoed Brandon McKoy, Policy Analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective. “We must close Jamesburg and Hayes, and transform our juvenile justice system into one that prioritizes rehabilitation and community-based care."