Institute Releases Beyond the Hashtag: Making Black Lives Matter by Closing JMSF and Building a Community-Based System of Care
Report Proposes Radical Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released Beyond the Hashtag: Making Black Lives Matter by Closing JMSF and Building a Community-Based System of Care, a report arguing for the closure of the Juvenile Medium Security Facility (JMSF) and New Jersey’s two other youth prisons and, instead of incarceration, the development of a well-resourced community-based system of care that provides intensive treatment and services for young people to keep them out of the criminal justice system. A pdf of the report can be found here.
“It is time for New Jersey to go beyond the hashtag and radically transform its youth justice system,” said Andrea McChristian, primary author of Beyond the Hashtag. “Our youth prison system, including JMSF, is a harmful relic from generations past. Especially in these times, it is clearer than ever that we should focus on building up our kids, not building prisons for them.”
In response to the 150 Years is Enough campaign led by the Institute, former Governor Chris Christie in 2018 ordered the closure of two of New Jersey youth prisons, Hayes (for girls) and Jamesburg (for boys). Both remain open, along with JMSF, which has been largely left out of the closure conversation. The state has plans to build three new youth prisons across the state.
New Jersey has the highest Black to white youth incarceration disparity rate in the country, with a Black youth 21 times more likely to be locked up than a white youth. This is so even though research shows that Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates.
“In this pandemic moment, millions are protesting across the country around one united principle: Black Lives Matter. Yet, here in New Jersey, this statement rings hollow when we look at how the state treats its Black youth,” argues the report. “Black lives cannot really matter in New Jersey when the state continues to disproportionately incarcerate its Black youth in failed youth prisons.”
As of June 1, 2020, out of 141 incarcerated youth in New Jersey, 91 are Black and only nineteen are white. And these largely Black youth are being locked up at an exorbitant cost: this year, the state will spend $300,000 to incarcerate each young person locked up in New Jersey’s largely empty youth prisons.
The report argues that JMSF, the state’s most secure youth prison for boys, is harmful to New Jersey’s youth.
“JMSF is remote, far away from young people’s families, non-rehabilitative, replete with racial disparities, financially wasteful and mostly empty. What is more, many of the young people incarcerated in JMSF have mental health needs, disabilities and have been involved with the child welfare system; these youth are in need of comprehensive treatment and services, not incarceration in a failed youth prison,” says the report.
While the report acknowledges that some young people incarcerated in JMSF may need to be in an out-of-home placement because they cannot be safely rehabilitated in the community, it argues that this placement should not be in JMSF. By contrast, community-based placements and services have been shown to effectively support and rehabilitate young people – even those who have committed serious harms.
In addition to making an evidence-based argument for why JMSF is an outdated representation of a punitive youth justice model and the need for its closure, the report offers three policy proposals that will chart the way forward for how New Jersey can build a youth community-based continuum of care, close its three youth prisons (including JMSF), maintain public safety and keep communities and families together and whole:
New Jersey should create a youth community-based continuum of care and close its three youth prisons.
- New Jersey should create a $100 million lockbox fund to finance the youth community-based continuum of care.
- New Jersey should pass the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act.
“Through implementation of the report’s policy proposals, New Jersey can finally be a state where Black youth matter,” concludes the report.
Beyond the Hashtag is the fourth in a series of reports from the Institute on transforming the youth justice system in New Jersey, following Bring Our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child?, Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth and Bring Our Children Home: Building up Kids Through New Jersey’s Youth Services Commissions.