In the News

Groups seek to end solitary confinement of juveniles in N.J.

Seeking to end solitary confinement of children in New Jersey juvenile detention centers, civil rights organizations on Monday filed a petition with the state proposing new limits on what they say is a psychologically damaging - and poorly regulated - form of discipline.

Led by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, nine groups are pushing for changes to the rules governing juvenile detention centers, including eliminating the state's authority to hold children for up to five days in solitary confinement as punishment or pending a disciplinary hearing.

The petition cites an "emerging body of social scientific literature" about the harmful effects of solitary confinement - particularly on young people - and a movement nationwide to eliminate or restrict the practice.In New Jersey, state officials have released no data on the numbers of children being held in isolation in detention centers.

But the groups behind the petition say the practice is common, often administered arbitrarily - and sometimes with devastating consequences.One boy, in trouble for stealing a bicycle, hung himself some years ago after he was placed in an isolation cell, said Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee, one of the groups that signed the petition.


Groups Seek Limited Use of Solitary Confinement for Offenders in NJ's Juvenile Justice System

TRENTON, New Jersey — New Jersey's American Civil Liberties Union and other groups met with state officials Monday to push for strict limits on the use of solitary confinement of juveniles held in state custody.

They told representatives from the Attorney General's office and the Juvenile Justice Commission that the young offenders have complained to them about being sent to isolation and left without food or clothes for days.

Currently, juveniles can be isolated for up to five days at a time and a total of 10 days per month as punishment for bad behavior in the detention center. But some claim they were left much longer and for minor infractions.


ACLU, Other Groups Want N.J. to Limit Use of Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of religious, social services and children’s groups today will ask New Jersey to ban using solitary confinement as punishment for juveniles in state and county detention facilities. The state allows for juvenile offenders to be locked away in their rooms for up to five straight days as disciplinary punishment. Corrections officials in the United States have said it’s a needed tool. The ACLU and the groups say the practice goes against the mission of juvenile detention centers: to rehabilitate young people, all of whom will be released. "These are folks who are getting out, and we have an obligation to ensure both that they’re rehabilitated, and also that they’re not horribly damaged," said Alex Shalom, the policy counsel of the ACLU in New Jersey. "I think this is a real opportunity for New Jersey to take a leadership role." 

Following Meeting, ACLU Optimistic N.J. Will Limit Use of Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

After meeting with top officials with New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice Commission and the Attorney General’s Office Monday, an American Civil Liberties Union leader said he is optimistic the state will act on the group’s call to limit solitary confinement for juveniles in state and county detention facilities. The meeting came as the ACLU and a coalition of religious, social services and children’s organizations filed a petition asking the state to change its rules on confining juvenile offenders. "I feel really encouraged by the meeting," said Alex Shalom, policy counsel for the state ACLU. 

N.J. Lawmakers Hear Plea on 'Ban the Box'

Former drug dealer Micah Khan, 33, of Camden, went to Trenton on Monday to make another kind of sale. A single father who struggled to get a job when he got out of prison in 2007, Khan wanted to sell New Jersey lawmakers on the importance of proposed legislation that would help people with a background like his find work. "This is a lifesaving bill because it brings hope," he said at a Senate Labor Committee hearing, squeezed in before the end-of-the-session budget sprint toward recess began in earnest Monday afternoon.

Titled "the Opportunity to Compete Act," the proposed law would prohibit employers from asking about an applicant's criminal history until there was a conditional employment offer on the table. "People are not going to be hanging on street corners. They aren't going to be shooting each other if they are working 9 to 5," said Khan, who heads the Nehemiah Group, a prison reentry and renewal ministry in Camden. Khan called himself a realist and said he knows criminal-history questions are going to come up, "but don't disqualify me before you get me in the room."

For Ex-Cons Seeking Work, Let’s ‘Ban the Box’ by the Washington Post

One of my workshops, “Choose to Change,” encourages participants to figure out why they make bad financial choices.

We discuss the decisions that led them to their current situation. In the case of a recent session, the participants were all inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.

During the presentation, one woman tearfully described how she sold drugs so she could buy brand-name clothes, shoes and other items for herself and her children. She was trying to make up for what she didn’t have as a child.

“Now look at me,” she said. “I’m in prison, wearing cheap flip-flops, and I don’t have my freedom and any of the stuff I bought.”

I was moved by how forthcoming the women were. Many had similar stories: They committed crimes to support a lifestyle they couldn’t afford but thought they were entitled to. Their testimonies weren’t about offering excuses. They owned up to their mistakes and the damage they had done. They were eager to learn strategies to make better choices.

Audit Questions $23M in Benefits for N.J. Inmates

A clunky computerized data system that maintained information on inmates in New Jersey's county jails was largely responsible for $23.6 million in unemployment benefits, Medicaid coverage, food stamps, and cash assistance received by those behind bars, state Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer said Wednesday.

In most of the cases, the benefits were improperly paid. The inmates - 20,000 in all - were not qualified for them since they were receiving room, board, and medical care while in prison, Boxer said.

"The data was there, but no one was using it," Boxer said Wednesday, hours after his office released a 28-page audit on the payments. "The data hadn't been massaged in a way that was usable."

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice Mourns the Death of Drum Major for Justice, Bob Edgar.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, with so many Americans who are inspired by a vision of a more just society, mourns the death of Bob Edgar. While the long arc of Bob’s public service might be described with terms such as lawmaker or progressive leader, the words of another clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more accurately describe him as a “drum major for justice.” Given the tone with which Bob talked about his family, you would also have to warmly define his life with words like “father,” “husband,” “grandfather,” “son,” or “brother.”

Bob was a Methodist minister who pushed for liberal reforms as a six-term Pennsylvania congressman, a leader of American churches, and President of the citizens lobby known as Common Cause.


Ban the Box Rally Press Release

Newark, NJ- April 26, 2013. Ban the Box NJ, a statewide grassroots campaign advocating for the passage of the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, will host a rally on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 1:00 PM on the front steps of the State House in Trenton, New Jersey.

The New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act makes the job application process fairer for all New Jerseyans by moving inquiries into a candidate's criminal background to after a candidate has been interviewed and offered a conditional offer of employment. By making the job process fairer, the Act also increases public


safety and decreases government spending on corrections by reducing the number of individuals cycling through the criminal justice system. The bill also improves the economy by giving more New Jerseyans the ability to earn an income to stimulate the economy.


Princeton University Students Rally Support for "Ban the Box" Legislation

Ray Chao and Brandon Holt, a couple of Princeton University students with a flair for advocacy, have found the perfect way to motivate people to support the state’s pending “ban-the-box” legislation: Self-interest. The Opportunity to Compete bill, introduced in the state Legislature in February, aims to eliminate the notorious “box” that applicants with criminal convictions must check on employment applications, delaying disclosure until farther along in the hiring process.

The box is associated, said Chao and Holt, with hardened criminals, prison sentences and blighted urban communities with a high rate of crime. That public perception, they explained, is skewed. “This is a bill that’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t apply to me, this isn’t my problem,’” said Chao during an interview on campus.