NJ Spotlight Profiles Juvenile Justice Campaign Manager Retha Onitiri

NJ Spotlight writes:

Next week, the institute launches its campaign to close the state’s boys’ and girls’ prisons. Being called the “150 years is enough campaign,” Onitiri said a broad coalition of about 50 organizations that include academics, lawyers, mental health professionals, and grassroots groups are pushing to change the way the state deals with young offenders 150 years after Jamesburg, the major boys’ prison, opened its doors.

“Our mission is to reduce the number in the youth prisons and increase the number receiving community care,” she said. The institute issued a report last December that looked at the state’s youth criminal justice system and recommended alternatives to incarceration when possible. According to the institute, just 13 of 222 youths incarcerated in the state’s three youth prisons are white, although research shows young blacks and whites have similar rates of offense.

And locking children away does not prevent them from having future troubles with the law. “After 150 years, we find we are not rehabilitating young people; there are still high recidivism rates,” she said. Community-based programs with wraparound services have proven to be more effective in reducing recidivism than incarceration. Those who need to be placed in a secure facility should instead be in smaller places closer to home that have more therapeutic environments with appropriate treatment.

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