Discussions Allegedly Took Place About Building a New Jail in Newark. "NJ Doesn't Need Any More Youth Prison Beds," Opponents Argued.
NEWARK, NJ — UPDATE: This article includes a statement from Newark city officials and Mayor Ras Baraka issued Monday evening.
"New Jersey doesn't need any more youth prison beds." That was the reaction from a coalition of local groups when they learned the idea of building a new jail in Newark was allegedly being kicked around.
However, Mayor Ras Baraka has a message of reassurance for those who cringe at the idea of a having yet another prison in Newark... "it's simply not happening."
Last week, the United Black Agenda Group sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy denouncing "plans to construct a new youth prison in Newark" and promising that any such effort would be met with hearty pushback from the local community.
In their letter, the coalition wrote:
"We oppose New Jersey's plan to build a new youth prison in Newark on an environmentally compromised site near West Side High School, KIPP Rise Academy, and Speedway Academies without any community input. Curiously, we were informed about this plan on a Task Force emergency call convened by Kevin Brown—Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission and the Task Force's Chair—just days after the Task Force's first meeting. This plan to construct a new youth prison in Newark will be met with substantial community opposition. New Jersey cannot realize the youth justice transformation possible in this moment if it starts by building new youth prisons. We also oppose any plans by the state to move forward with the construction of two new youth prisons in the central and southern regions of New Jersey."
The group added:
"New Jersey does not need any more youth prison beds. Our state has 11 non-secure youth residential community homes, and these facilities are at less than half capacity. Indeed, based on the average daily population numbers available in the most recent budget, and because our state's youth prisons are also at less than half capacity, all but two of the young people estimated to be incarcerated in a youth prison in 2020 could be moved to an empty bed within a residential community home. While there are currently facility restrictions for certain young people (such as those who have been waived), such restrictions make it even more important that New Jersey takes the time necessary to review its own facilities before it begins building even more youth prisons with empty beds."
Read the coalition's full letter to Murphy here.
In their letter, the coalition noted that three of its members – Salvation and Social Justice, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) – serve on a prison task force that the governor created with an executive order in October 2018.
The NJISJ offered the below photo that allegedly depicts the proposed location of the prison. (Story continues below)
NEWARK CITY OFFICIALS: 'NOT HAPPENING'
When asked if there is a proposal to build a youth prison in Newark, a spokesperson with Murphy's office issued the following statement:
"Governor Murphy believes deeply in transforming our juvenile justice system to prioritize treatment, rehabilitation, and positive reinforcement for young people. The administration seeks to balance public safety with the potential closure of existing facilities and opening of smaller regional sites to allow young people the ability to be close to their families and home communities."
On Monday evening, spokespeople for the City of Newark shed some additional light on the situation.
According to a city press release:
"The State of New Jersey is planning to transform our juvenile justice system to prioritize treatment, rehabilitation, and education. Existing youth prisons will be closed. They will be replaced by smaller youth development centers as a rehabilitation alternative to incarceration on regional sites. This will allow young people to be close to their families and communities. Prison would be retained as an alternative only for those at high risk... One of the youth development centers was proposed for Newark on a West Ward site that is both unavailable and impractical. The former Pabst site, formerly owned by a bank, was sold to a private developer who has no plans for a youth facility on that land."
"A new youth prison in Newark is simply not happening," Mayor Baraka said. "I support the concept of rehabilitative youth development centers, but existing youth facilities should be renovated for that purpose. Further, New Jersey's current youth incarceration system is a waste of precious taxpayer dollars, funneling millions each year into largely empty youth prisons."
According to Baraka, the state spends an estimated $280,000 each year to incarcerate each young person in a state youth prison... even though those same prisons are largely empty.
In contrast to the "exorbitant" spending on youth prisons, New Jersey spends only around $16 million each year on community-based programs to keep kids out of the youth justice system, Baraka said.
"New Jersey's youth incarceration system does not significantly reduce recidivism or increase public safety," Baraka asserted. "Of the 377 youth released from commitment in state youth facilities in 2014, 76.9% had a new court filing or arrest, 58.9% had a new adjudication or conviction, and almost one-fourth (23.9%) were recommitted within three years of release. Studies show that children who are incarcerated in the youth justice system are also much more likely to be incarcerated as adults. The money saved by closing youth prisons and not constructing new buildings should be invested in strategic and comprehensive community engagement programs such as our newly formed Brick City Peace Collective and alternative policing strategies."
The mayor added that racial disparities in incarceration reflect a "systemic racism" facing New Jersey's black and latino youth.
"A black or latino child in our state is much more likely to be detained or incarcerated than a white child, even though research shows that black, latino and white kids commit most offenses at similar rates," Baraka said.
Newark is currently home to holding facilities including Northern State Prison, Essex County Correctional Facility, Delaney Hall Detention Facility and the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center, as well as a municipal processing unit at 480 Clinton Avenue.