NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Ras Baraka clarified his position on new youth rehabilitation centers and jails on WBGO’s “Newark Today” after the release of a joint statement with the governor showed support for a new secure youth residential center.
“There's no way we should spend $160 million to build three jails -- I think -- or even three rehabilitation centers - new ones,” Baraka said over the airwaves Thursday night.
The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) is urging Gov. Phil Murphy to close youth prisons, which the group says are operating far below capacity. There are currently 11 less restrictive facilities for juveniles and three secure jail-type institutions throughout the state, according to the state Attorney General's Office website.
The institute doesn't want any new youth facilities to be built either. Only as a last resort would the group want existing structures to be renovated to develop youth rehabilitation centers -- and only with community input. Baraka put out a statement early last week that was in line with the institute.
"I support the concept of rehabilitative youth development centers, but existing youth facilities should be renovated for that purpose," the mayor's initial statement read.
“We look forward to the opening of smaller regional centers to allow young people the ability to be closer to their families and home communities,” the statement read. “These regional sites will provide a secure residential setting for young offenders while providing treatment, rehabilitative services, and community space.”
The governor’s office today did not respond when asked to clarify the governor’s position.
The institute has said it was told a secure North Jersey facility - what it calls a prison - would be located at the site of the former Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery. Baraka said that the city had discussions about the property for building a "youth development center" there, but nothing was finalized.
“There's a property up there that's owned by the bank, which is actually now owned by somebody else,” Baraka said on air. “They sold it to someone else who is not in contact with the state. They might be now. Y'know, if they found the state want it. But today, that is not happening.”
NJISJ says two secure youth jails still remain open. They are the New Jersey Training School, known as Jamesburg, and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, known as Hayes.
In Jan. 2018, former Gov. Chris Christie announced a $162 million bond to close those two prisons and open two state of the art juvenile rehabilitation centers. One would be built in Ewing, a Central Jersey location, and another would be built in Winslow, a South Jersey location.
State Attorney General spokeswoman Sharon Lauchaire told TAPinto Newark that she believed only two locations were included with the original idea and that a North Jersey site would be added later.
“While the city of Newark has been discussed no northern location has been identified,” Lauchaire said in an email.
Baraka said he doesn’t believe the governor wants to actually build youth jails or youth prisons since "it really makes no sense."
“He may want to build additional or better facilities and we have to come up with another plan,” Baraka said. “The other plan has to be centered around the facilities that exist. There are residential facilities that exist. You can invest in those facilities, modernize them, make them better.”
“Newark Today” host Michael Hill reflected on the semantics of jails versus rehabilitation centers.
“I think too there may be a -- to a certain extent -- may be a trust factor in this,” Hill said. “That some people who oppose this plan may think that ultimately, what's going to happen is that somebody will say a youth residential facility but it may turn out to be a jail.”
Baraka, in response, said he always finds himself "in the middle trying to pull all these parts and pieces and people together."
“I understand where the governor is coming from and I understand where the people of this city are coming from as well,” the mayor said.
He continued: “They have a right to be worried. I mean, the history in this state - this country - people say they're going to do something. It turns out to be something else. So they're not far off from being worried or cynical about the situation.”