At the start of Black History Month, the Institute team hosted a call with leaders from New Jersey's faith community to lend a prophetic voice to what Rev. Charles Boyer called "the greatest moral and civil rights issue of our time: the shackling of young Black and Brown bodies in New Jersey."
Black History Month reminds us that there is nothing inconsistent about recognizing progress and demanding more. Indeed, that is a theme of Black History Month: Recognize progress. And demand more.
This theme is especially relevant to New Jersey's youth prisons, where there has been a significant reduction in the number of children incarcerated in New Jersey.
At the same time, however, striking and unacceptable racial disparities persist. As we outline in our new report, "Bring Our Children Home: Ain't I A Child," Black children make up almost 75% of those committed to juvenile facilities in our state. Indeed, Black youth are more than 24 times more likely to be placed in a secure juvenile facility than white children.
But this is not because Black and Brown young people are more criminally culpable. Young people, without regard to their race, commit offenses at about the same rate.
Instead, the disparities in our youth prisons reflect racially discriminatory policy decisions about which children get sent to prison. Those are practices that can --indeed must -- be changed. It is our moral responsibility.
Joining this call with Rev. Boyer were Rev. Sara Lilja, Director of the Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey; Rev. Timothy Levi Jones of Newark's Bethany Baptist Church; Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange; Pastor Dr. Terry L. Richardson of the First Baptist Church of South Orange; Rev. Rob Gregson, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey, as well as children's champions Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter and Senator Nellie Pou.
Faith and other leaders in New Jersey, we ask you to join Faith Justice New Jersey, an Institute-sponsored coalition, that supports a transformation of the juvenile justice system into a system of therapeutic, community based care.
To join Faith Justice New Jersey, please click here. As Rev. Jones said, "People of faith must lead the change in New Jersey's system of incarceration."
With your help, we will build strong and healthy urban communities with child-centered alternatives to incarceration. We envision a New Jersey where no child is imprisoned.
Please join us in this righteous battle.