April 19, 2019
Newark, NJ—The United Black Agenda Group and the 150 Years is Enough Campaign issued the following response to Governor Phil Murphy’s April 18 statement regarding the state’s plan to build more youth prisons in New Jersey.
“In January 2018, in direct response to the advocacy of the 150 Years Is Enough Campaign, New Jersey made one of the most important youth justice announcements in a generation: that Jamesburg, a youth prison for boys opened 150 years ago, and Hayes, the state’s girls’ youth prison, would close.
“Despite Governor Murphy’s clear acknowledgement of the shameful racial disparities in the state’s youth justice system and his promise to transform this system by prioritizing ‘treatment, rehabilitation, and positive reinforcement’ for young people, his administration has announced new plans to build more youth prisons.
“This proposal was announced a few days after the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey on an emergency call convened by Kevin Brown—the Task Force’s Chair and the Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission. This new proposal is part of New Jersey’s broader plan to invest $160 million dollars to construct three new youth prisons in northern, central, and southern New Jersey.
“But as the Governor’s budget shows, both the state’s three youth prisons and the state’s eleven non-secure youth residential community homes are half empty.
“Instead of building more youth prisons, the state could move almost all of the less-than-200 currently incarcerated youth into an empty bed in a youth residential community home.
“New Jersey cannot transform youth prisons by building more youth prisons.
“The people of Newark agree, which is why they roundly rejected New Jersey’s attempt to build a school-to-youth prison pipeline. They protested the state’s plan to purchase polluted land in Newark’s West Ward, a site that is only a five-minute drive from a youth residential community home that according to a 2016 audit, is half-empty.
“We stand with Mayor Baraka in clearly stating that we do not need youth prisons in Newark or anywhere else in the state.
“We understand that some young people may need to be in an out-of-home placement for a limited period of time for public safety reasons. But we agree with Mayor Baraka that we should first look to truly rehabilitating these young people in the largely empty youth placement facilities we already have throughout the state – youth residential community homes – which can be made more secure if necessary.
“We must also ensure that these placements are in the community, are rehabilitative, child-centered, engage with families, and are filled with public workers trained in effective youth rehabilitation practices.
“We need a world where kids can be treated like kids, regardless of color. Where a child of color has the same room to grow and learn from mistakes as a white one. Where the millions of dollars that we currently invest in youth incarceration can instead be invested through a lockbox fund into front-end community-based programs (such as prevention, intervention, diversion, and incarceration alternatives programs) to ensure that our young people never become system-involved at all. Where the state once again makes deep and meaningful investments in the lives of our kids—primarily our Black kids—like it once did with the Bordentown School. This type of transformation forms the very basis of the Task Force’s charge and our advocacy.
“The state’s plan to construct new youth prisons, without support from the community, and without the Task Force’s recommendations, is not the youth justice transformation Governor Murphy promised our children.
“Now is the time for Governor Murphy to listen to the community, and to exercise courageous leadership so that altogether we can create a youth justice system that makes substantial investments in building up all of our kids, not in building new youth prisons.”