NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, Latino Action Network and Salvation and Social Justice (the “Social Justice Task Force Members”) today issued a dissent to a report issued by the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey (the “Youth Justice Task Force”) that calls for the construction of three new youth prisons in New Jersey.
The Social Justice Task Force Members are part of the larger Youth Justice Task Force created by an executive order signed by Governor Murphy on October 26, 2018. The task force report comes over four years after former Governor Christie’s January 8, 2018 announcement that Jamesburg and Hayes youth prisons were to be shut down. Those two prisons, in addition to JMSF, remain open today. (The Youth Justice Task Force report contains a previously filed objection raised by the Social Justice Task Members.)
In their dissent, the Social Justice Task Force Members urge Governor Murphy not to follow the Youth Justice Task Force’s recommendation to construct three new youth prisons, but instead to support an affirmative, positive vision for investing in kids that includes: i) a youth prison closure timeline; ii) $100 million invested into community-based youth programs; and iii) transformation/repurposing of existing facilities once the youth prisons close.
A copy of the Social Justice Task Force Members’ dissent detailing those recommendations can be found here.
The Social Justice Task Force Members said in their dissent, “New Jersey cannot transform its youth justice system by simply replacing old youth prisons with new, smaller youth prisons. That is not transformation but maintaining the status quo and perpetuating the kind of carceral model that is largely out of step with contemporary thinking and best practices, especially regarding young people. Instead, New Jersey must take bold action and announce a prison closure timeline, invest in community programs and transform its youth facilities.”
In New Jersey, a Black youth is almost 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white youth, the highest racial disparity in America, despite Black and white youth committing most offenses at similar rates. New Jersey also has the fourth-highest Latina/o-to-white youth incarceration disparity rate in the country, with a Latina/o youth over four times more likely to be detained or committed than a white youth.
In February 2022, there were only 11 white youth incarcerated out of 102 total youth in contrast to 65 Black and 21 Latina/o youth. New Jersey’s youth prisons are also not safe places for youth, who have been subjected to physical violence and challenges to their mental health.
While harmful to those within them, youth prisons are largely empty – and wasteful. In February 2022, youth prisons were almost 80% empty while staffing levels were maintained as if the prisons were full.
Despite the staggering racial disparities, the declining overall population of incarcerated youth and the danger to youth, New Jersey has doubled down on investment in incarceration. New Jersey will spend an incredible $608,095 to incarcerate each youth in a state youth prison in Fiscal Year 2023.
The Social Justice Task Force Members’ dissent also points out that New Jersey’s youth incarceration system does not significantly reduce recidivism or increase public safety. Of the 336 youth released from commitment in state youth facilities in 2015, 78% had a new court filing or arrest, 61.3% had a new adjudication or conviction and 28% were recommitted within three years of release.
The Social Justice Task Force Members urge Governor Murphy and Attorney General Matthew Platkin to follow the recommendations in their dissenting opinion by investing in kids, not constructing new youth prisons for them.
The Institute, with partners, will be holding a Juneteenth rally that, in addition to other issues, will lift up the call to close New Jersey’s youth prisons. The public can receive information for the rally by signing up for Institute updates at njisj.org