New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act Introduced in State Legislature

Legislation Inspired by the Institute’s Policy Recommendations Will Transform New Jersey’s Youth Justice System

Newark – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and more than 100 organizations that comprise the 150 Years is Enough Campaign are proud to stand with Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter, Assemblywoman Linda S. Carter, Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake, Senator Ronald L. Rice, and Senator Sandra B. Cunningham in support of the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act, historic legislation that will transform youth justice in New Jersey by making deep and reparative investments in kids and communities most impacted by youth incarceration.

The legislation (A5365/S3701) is inspired by the Institute’s policy recommendations in its vision statement, Investing in Kids, Not Prisons: The Urgency of Transformative Youth Justice Reform in New Jersey. 

“In response to the 150 Years Is Enough Campaign advocacy, New Jersey made one of the most important youth justice announcements in a generation: that Jamesburg, a youth prison for boys opened over 150 years ago, and Hayes, the state’s girls’ youth prison, would close,” said  Ryan P. Haygood, President and CEO of the Institute. “Following that announcement, New Jersey can build a transformed youth justice system that deeply invests in restorative and reparative community-based care for young people impacted by incarceration in New Jersey, where a Black kid is 30 times more likely to be locked up —the highest racial disparity rate in America.  A state of nine million people, New Jersey has just 16 white kids confined, even though Black and white kids commit most offenses at similar rates. The legislation will position New Jersey as a national model for youth justice transformation.” 

Assemblywoman Sumter announced the bill’s introduction at the Lock Arms to Unlock Our Kids rally on May 18, hosted by the Institute and its 150 Years is Enough campaign partners.

“This is long overdue in New Jersey. We must afford our children every opportunity to flourish by investing in their success, as opposed to continuing down a path that increases recidivism and incarceration rates,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter, who represents New Jersey’s Legislative District 35. “This legislation sets forth a comprehensive, practical, and visionary plan that will build and empower our young people through prevention, community-based programming, diversion, and rehabilitation. I am grateful to advocates like the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the 150 Years is Enough Campaign for their partnership and for continuing to support legislative efforts which place our children and the communities we serve at the forefront.”

“I am proud to introduce the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act in the New Jersey Senate to finally end New Jersey’s shameful era as the state with the worst Black to white youth incarceration disparity rate in the country. This is a rate double that of the second state on the list, Wisconsin. It is intolerable,” said Senator Ronald L. Rice, who represents New Jersey’s Legislative District 28. “One of the most important provisions of this legislation is for a racial and ethnic disparities study to research and eliminate the racial disparities in New Jersey’s youth justice system. We must confront the difficult truth that New Jersey is one of the most progressive and regressive states in America simultaneously—and that its racial disparities in the criminal justice system are driven not by actual participation in crime, but by racism. It is time to change that. There have been too many families of color devastated by discriminatory policies that keep our kids down instead of building them up. I am proud to partner with my colleagues in the Senate and my friends at the Institute to get this bill signed and passed by Governor Murphy expeditiously.”

“The New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act is a critical piece of legislation that will overhaul the deeply broken and failed youth justice system in New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Linda S. Carter, who represents New Jersey’s Legislative District 22. “I am proud to work with my legislative colleagues and fierce advocates like the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the 150 Years is Enough campaign to bring a new, fairer and more compassionate system to our state, one that will support our kids instead of investing in their failure.”

“I am proud to support this powerful piece of legislation that puts the interest of kids above building prisons for them,” said Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake, who represents New Jersey’s Legislative District 34. “It is a privilege to work with my legislative colleagues and advocates like the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice to prioritize the welfare of New Jersey’s vulnerable children – especially those of color – who deserve better than what we’ve been giving them.”

“We have been treating New Jersey’s children of color as disposable for far too long through our youth justice system,” said Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, who represents New Jersey’s Legislative District 31. “I am proud to work with my colleagues to support the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act, which will provide systemic and broad-based support mechanisms to truly reform a very broken system and bring hope to so many young lives.”

“New Jersey makes deep financial investments in primarily incarcerating Black and Brown kids. The annual price tag for each kid is $289,000,” said Andrea McChristian, Director of the Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative. “To add insult to injury, New Jersey is advancing a plan to spend $160 million to build three new prisons for kids – and the state’s FY 2020 budget includes a $7 million repayment for the bond. This is not the kind of investment our kids need. At a time New Jersey is, rightfully, investing $100 million toward opioid treatment, we simply cannot commit $160 million to build new prisons to incarcerate our primarily Black and Brown kids. We should instead invest in programs in our communities that help kids deal with trauma; that help kids develop skills for advancement; and that ensure that our kids never become system-involved in the first place and are granted every opportunity to grow and thrive in their communities. That is the bold transformation this legislation envisions, and we are proud to stand with Assemblywoman Sumter, Assemblywoman Carter, Assemblywoman Timberlake, Senator Rice, and Senator Cunningham, who have had the courage and moral conscience to introduce it and move it into law.”

“I see the devastation of our racist youth justice system every day, helping families manage the pain and suffering that comes from seeing young lives ruined for no good reason,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury and the founder of Salvation and Social Justice. “Our communities are doing their part by raising their voices and marching the streets to say loudly and clearly there are no throwaway kids. All kids can be saved if we make the investments in them they deserve. It is heartening to now see legislators do their part to reform our broken system, and I commend the courageous representatives who have introduced this groundbreaking legislation that, once law, will put into place the structures necessary to support our kids instead of crushing them.”

“We are advocating for transformation of our youth justice system into a system of community-based care where investments are made in our kids, not in incarcerating them; where there is no longer a pernicious ‘school-to-prison pipeline’; where wraparound services and support structures are embedded in the community so that kids stay out of the system; and where, when out-of-home placement is necessary, youth are held in small, community-based, therapeutic residential programs with the ultimate goal of returning to their homes,” saidRev. Timothy Adkins-Jones, the pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark. “The money spent on incarcerating even one child would provide much needed resources to communities searching for ways to be proactive in the development of our children. This legislation helps move us closer to realizing this transforming, affirmative vision for what youth justice can look like in New Jersey.”

“I work day in and out with youth communities of color, and witness first-hand their hunger for support and positive, therapeutic programs that will help them succeed,” said Retha Onitiri, the Institute’s Director of Community Engagement and Manager of the 150 Years is Enough Campaign. “The barreling train of youth incarceration must be stopped in its tracks, and this legislation goes a long way in doing that. We commend Assemblywomen Sumter, Carter, and Timberlake, as well as Senators Rice and Cunningham, for supporting this visionary bill that would not only close down New Jersey’s youth prisons, but also provide for substantial investment in community-based care to keep youth out of the system.”

 The New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act, a copy of which can be found here, would: 

  • Set closure deadlines for Jamesburg and Hayes youth prisons and mandate the closure of the Juvenile Medium Security Facility, New Jersey’s third youth prison;
  • Require New Jersey to develop a comprehensive closure transition plan encompassing provisions for both youth and workers;
  • Require that New Jersey’s eleven non-secure youth facilities be assessed for their ability to serve as appropriate placements for youth transitioning from a state youth prison, or for potential closure;
  • Require that, if needed, New Jersey develop a plan, with community input, for renovating or repurposing existing properties into youth rehabilitation centers in the communities most impacted by youth incarceration to accommodate situations where an out-of-home placement is necessary for public safety or other reasons;
  • Create a $100 million annual Youth Justice Transformation Fund to fund effective community-based youth programs;
  • Require a racial and ethnic disparities study to research and eliminate racial disparities in the youth justice system;
  • Place youth incarceration as the last adjudication disposition option, not the default; and
  • Increase transparency from the Youth Services Commission.

Relevant materials are as follows:


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