The recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. J.G., allowed J.G., a devoted father, to regain custody of his daughter and set an important precedent for formerly incarcerated parents throughout New Jersey. From the moment of his daughter's birth, J.G. cared for her, changing her diapers, taking her to the doctor, and fulfilling all other normal paternal responsibilities. This developing relationship abruptly ended when he was incarcerated in 2004. While he was in prison, his daughter was placed in the care of her maternal grandmother.
Once released from prison, J.G. sought to continue a relationship with her, to remain in her life, to be her father. Nonetheless, the Department of Children and Families (DYFS) took the position that his parent rights should be terminated - permanently severing the parent/child bonds and legal connections. J.G. fought the request. The state took the position that J.G. efforts to maintain bonds with his daughter were, given his incarceration, insufficient. But last month, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling in New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. J.G.
The Court ruled that Department of Children and Families (formerly known as "DYFS") did not have enough evidence to terminate the parental rights of visitation and contact of J.G. with his daughter merely because of his incarceration during some of the early years of her childhood. This decision was an important victory for NJISJ, who along with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) had supported J.G., served as co-counsel for both organizations, submitted an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, and helped prepare both counsel for amici and J.G.'s counsel for the oral argument. According to the research of Bruce Western and Becky Petit with the Pew Charitable Trusts, 2.7 million children in 2009 had an incarcerated parent. Much recent social science has reinforced the longstanding truth that maintaining biological families, even imperfect ones, is in the best interest of the children, the parents, and society at large.
Children do not lose the parents who are their ultimate source of emotional and other support. Parents, particularly incarcerated parents, maintain what is often their strongest motivation for overcoming the obstacles they face and turning their lives around. Society benefits because ex-offenders with strong family ties have markedly lower rates of recidivism. This was an important victory for the children, families and communities of New Jersey. NJISJ is proud to have played a part in securing it. The Institute's brief can be read here
. The Supreme Court's opinion can be read here