Group’s Letter Calls for Putting Money into Kids, Not Prisons
Newark – The United Black Agenda Group – composed of The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Salvation and Social Justice, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, New Jersey Black Issues Convention, Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey and Fair Share Housing Center – sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Phil Murphy opposing plans to construct a new youth prison in Newark and urging him to stop plans to build any new youth prisons. The group has been at the forefront of the Movement for the 94 Percent—a campaign aimed to hold the Murphy administration accountable to the 94 percent of Black voters who voted for Gov. Murphy.
The letter stated, “[W]e 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.” It continued, “New Jersey does not need any more youth prison beds. Our state has eleven non-secure youth residential community homes, and these facilities are at less than half capacity.”
In January 2018, as a direct result of advocacy by the 150 Years is Enough Campaign, which aims to close New Jersey’s three youth prisons and reinvest funds into community-based programs, Gov. Chris Christie announced the closure of two youth prisons – the New Jersey Training School for Boys (also known as “Jamesburg”) and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (also known as “Hayes”). Those two youth prisons remain open.
In October 2018, on the evening before the Rally for the 94 Percent spearheaded by the United Black Agenda Group, Gov. Murphy issued an Executive Order establishing the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey. The Task Force is responsible for providing recommendations to the Governor’s Office, the Legislature and other agencies on strategies and actions to reform New Jersey’s youth justice system.
But while the Task Force has only met twice, has not had any of its three mandated public hearings and has not yet issued any recommendations, plans have begun for the construction of a new youth prison in Newark.
“Curiously, we were informed about this plan on a Task Force emergency call convened…just days after the Task Force’s first meeting,” said the United Black Agenda group in its letter.
As stated in the letter, “New Jersey has the worst Black to white youth incarceration disparity rate in the entire nation. A Black child in New Jersey is over 30 times more likely to be detained or incarcerated than a white child, even though research shows that Black and white kids commit most offenses at similar rates.
“Incredibly, as of March 29, 2019, in New Jersey, a state of more than 9 million people, only 18 white kids are committed to juvenile facilities. By contrast, 156 of committed youth are Black. These racial disparities illuminate the systemic racism facing New Jersey’s Black kids.”
To address the shameful youth justice system in New Jersey, the letter calls on the Governor to commit to the following, as outlined in the 150 Years is Enough Campaign’s vision document:
- Develop a comprehensive action plan for addressing the state’s harmful youth incarceration racial disparities;
- Create a youth justice transformation lockbox to fund effective community-based programs;
- Develop a closure plan for Jamesburg, Hayes, and the state’s most secure youth prison—JMSF;
- Conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the state’s current youth facilities to determine whether any can be closed or used to house young people transitioning from, or who would otherwise be sent to, Jamesburg, Hayes, and JMSF; and
- Only as a last resort, and after comprehensive research and review that meaningfully incorporates community input, including on locations, repurpose or renovate existing structures to develop youth rehabilitation centers, if needed, that follow best practices (e.g., therapeutic, rehabilitative, child-centered, family focused, and filled with public workers trained in rehabilitative practices and trauma-informed care) and are located in the communities most impacted by youth incarceration.
Find more information on the 150 Years is Enough youth justice campaign here.
A full copy of the letter to Gov. Murphy can be found here.