The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice uses cutting-edge racial and social justice advocacy to empower people of color by building reparative systems that create wealth, transform justice and harness democratic power—from the ground up—in New Jersey.



“Black people have and will continue to be
the perfecters of this democracy.”

-Nikole Hannah-Jones



The Institute was thrilled to award our largest honor, the Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein Social Justice Award, to Nikole Hannah-Jones at our 15th Annual Gala on Nov. 10, 2020.

Click to watch our 2020 Gala

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator of the NYT 1619 Project, Nikole urges us to see America as it really is, and to look with clear vision at the lasting legacy of slavery on every aspect of modern-day life.

At our Gala, Nikole joined Institute President/CEO Ryan Haygood for an in-depth discussion on the role of race in the extraordinary moment we are living through – and the necessary work ahead.

We also honored four other powerful Black women at our event, hosted other special guests including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and enjoyed some powerful musical entertainment.

Please watch




In December 2019 – as a result of the collective advocacy of the 1844 No More Campaign led by the Institute – Governor Murphy signed into law voting rights restoration for 83,000 people on probation and parole in New Jersey.

One of those 83,000 was Ron Pierce, the institute’s Democracy & Justice Fellow, whose political voice was silenced for 34 years.

Watch this screening of Voter, a 15-minute documentary about Ron’s journey from a family where voting was everything, to being incarcerated and losing the vote, to becoming a lead voting rights advocate in NJ.

The screening, held with our partners at NJPAC, is complemented by a discussion including remarks from Governor Murphy, Asw. Shavonda Sumter and other people who have had their votes restored.

Hear from NJ Youth about What They Need to Stay Out of the Criminal Justice System


Marking Juneteenth: The Ongoing Quest for Freedom in New Jersey

Watch our Juneteenth panel of Institute experts discussing how to #DoRacialJustice in this critical moment.


In the News

Institute Releases Toolkit to Support Creation of Mental Health Support Systems for Youth in New Jersey

July 21, 2021


Institute Releases Toolkit to Support Creation of Mental Health Support Systems for Youth in New Jersey

Investing in Youth, Not Incarceration is Second Toolkit for Community-Based Care


NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released Investing in Youth, Not Incarceration: A Toolkit for Creating a Community-Led Approach to Youth Mental Health.

The toolkit, released in partnership with Salvation and Social Justice, provides advocates around the state with a blueprint for providing New Jersey’s kids with the mental health support they need in their communities to keep them out of youth prisons and help them thrive.

“New Jersey is failing its vulnerable youth,” said Ashanti Jones, Community Engagement Manager at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We continue to maintain a broken and inhumane youth justice system that doesn’t rehabilitate our kids but devastates them. This is particularly true for kids with mental health issues, who make up a significant portion of those who are incarcerated.”

New Jersey maintains a broken and inhumane youth justice system that locks up Black kids at almost 18 times the rate as white kids, even though they commit most offenses at similar rates – the highest racial disparity in the nation. Despite the fact that youth prisons are increasingly less populated, the state spends a startling $445,504 per youth each year to prop up an antiquated and harmful system. In May, there were only two girls incarcerated at Hayes youth prison for girls.

Many of the young people caught up in the system suffer from mental health challenges, and incarceration only aggravates these issues. Incarcerated youth with mental health challenges are more likely to attempt suicide, recidivate and develop substance abuse problems than their peers.

On the other hand, mental health care geared toward system-involved youth has resulted in arrest decreases as high as 70%. If such care is provided on the front end, New Jersey can reduce the number of kids who enter the youth justice system.

“Our new Investing in Youth, Not Incarceration toolkit provides advocates with a blueprint for providing our kids with the mental health support they need in their communities to keep them out of the system and help them thrive,” said Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “As we look to repair the cracks in our foundation exposed over the last year, we must not forget our young people. It’s time to invest in their success, not their failure.”

Based on conversations with over 115 community members about the needs of our youth, Investing in Youth, Not Incarceration provides practical and effective tools for adding mental health care to a community-based system of care, including community cafés, community accountability councils and mental telehealth lines.

The Institute’s previous toolkit provided a roadmap for a community-based system of care based on restorative justice, a process of rehabilitation through reconciliation within the community instead of punishment through the criminal justice system. That toolkit formed the foundation for the Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program bill currently awaiting Governor Murphy's signature.



Millions of people with felonies can now vote after widespread reform. Most don’t know it.

July 21, 2021

USA Today's Nicole Lewis and Andrew R. Calderon reports

Only a fraction of the thousands of formerly incarcerated people whose voting rights were restored in time for the 2020 election made it back on to the voter rolls in four key states – Nevada, Kentucky, Iowa and New Jersey, a Marshall Project analysis found.

At least 13 states have expanded voting rights for people with felony convictions between 2016 and 2020. As a result, millions of formerly incarcerated people across the country are now eligible to vote

Yet none of the states analyzed registered more than 1 in 4 eligible voters who were formerly incarcerated. That's significantly lower than the registration rate among the general public, where almost 3 in 4 eligible voters registered in each state.

NJ legislators and activists renew efforts for a reparations task force

July 21, 2021

PIX11's James Ford reports

NEWARK, N.J. — Because many people aren’t aware of northern states’ history of slavery, and because the descendants of those enslaved people have drastically less wealth now than white Americans, some legislators and activists in New Jersey are redoubling efforts to set up a reparations task force.

Bills have been introduced in both the state senate and the state assembly for the group to be organized.

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, a Democrat representing Bergen and Passaic counties, is the sponsor of the lower house bill.

She said that the task force would “put together a document that will define the impact of the inequities of slavery in New Jersey.”

Given the significant challenges we face, we have only two options: to embrace chaos or embrace community. We choose community. Join us as we work to bend our neighborhoods toward the beloved community.


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