Open Letter Calling for Youth Justice Reform

Dear Governor Phil Murphy, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Juvenile Justice Commission Executive Director Kevin Brown, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin:

We, the undersigned, urge you to halt New Jersey’s plans to spend $160 million on building youth prisons in Newark and the central and southern regions of the state, and to instead invest those resources in building up the kids and communities most impacted by youth incarceration.

In response to our 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 150 years ago, and Hayes, the state’s girls’ youth prison, would close.

Following this historic announcement, and to finally transform New Jersey’s broken youth justice system, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order No. 42 establishing the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey.

But just days after the Task Force’s first meeting, an emergency call was convened by Kevin Brown, Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission and the Task Force’s Chair, to announce 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.

This is part of New Jersey’s broader plan to invest $160 million to build three new youth prisons in the northern, central and southern regions of New Jersey.

This is a shameful plan. We do not need to build a new youth prison in Newark. Or anywhere else in New Jersey.

New Jersey has eleven non-secure youth residential community homes, and these facilities are at less than half capacity. Indeed, all but two of the young people estimated to be incarcerated in a youth prison in 2020 could be moved to an empty bed within a residential community home.

What New Jersey’s young people deserve is a transformed system, not a mere prison construction project where larger youth prisons are closed in favor of the construction of smaller ones, leaving the existing broken and racially discriminatory youth justice system intact.

New Jersey has the worst Black to white youth incarceration disparity rate in America. A Black child 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. In our state of more than nine million people, only 18 white kids are committed to a youth facility. By contrast, 156 of committed youth are Black.

These racial disparities illuminate the systemic racism facing New Jersey's Black kids. 

And yet, in 2019, New Jersey has deepened its investment in youth incarceration, spending a staggering $289,287 to incarcerate each child in a state youth prison—an almost $50,000 increase over 2018—and expects to spend the same amount in 2020.

This substantial investment in youth incarceration is occurring even as the number of incarcerated youth is declining, going from an average daily population of 215 kids in 2018 to 188 in 2019, and the same number is estimated for 2020. 

In his budget address, Governor Murphy noted, appropriately, that our state “[i]n every respect, . . . [must] commit to reforming our criminal justice system for the better,” and committed $100 million to combat the opioid epidemic to prevent and “end our national addiction.” 

But no such commitments have been made to the Black kids and communities devastated by New Jersey’s disgraceful youth justice system.

Now is the time to build a transformed youth justice system that works for all of our kids.

To do that, we urge you to:

  • Halt all plans to construct a new youth prison in Newark or anywhere in New Jersey;
  • Commit $100 million and other reparative and restorative investments into building up Black and Latino children and communities most impacted by New Jersey’s failed youth justice system;
  • 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 JMSF—the state’s most secure youth prison for boys;
  • Conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the state’s current non-secure youth residential community homes to determine if they can be closed or used—as is or as renovated/repurposed—to house young people transitioning from, or who would otherwise be sent to, Jamesburg, Hayes, or JMSF;
  • Only as a last resort, and only if the state, with community input and oversight, determines that a residential community home does not currently exist in or near a community that is highly impacted by youth incarceration, and, for public safety reasons, a certain number of kids from this community cannot be rehabilitated in the community, repurpose or renovate existing structures (such as closed schools and churches) within these communities to develop youth rehabilitation centers that are 30 beds or less, 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 tied to financial incentives to reduce the youth population in these facilities on an annual basis; and
  • Pass legislation that would implement the community-based system of care model laid out in the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s vision statement, Investing in Kids, Not Prisons: The Urgency of Transformative Youth Justice Reform in New Jersey.


For more information, please see our Reports: Bring Our Children Home: Ain’t I a Child and Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth.

992 signatures

Will you sign?

Organizations and individuals welcome.

Organization Signers (Individuals Below)

  1. Action Together New Jersey
  2. Action Together Union County
  3. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
  4. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Beta Alpha Omega Chapter
  5. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Gamma Omega Chapter
  6. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Nu Xi Omega Chapter 
  7. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Pi Theta Omega Chapter
  8. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Rho Gamma Omega Chapter
  9. American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch
  10. Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey
  11. Asbury Park Transformative Justice Project
  12. Association of Black Law Students at Rutgers Law School
  13. Association of Latin American Law Students at Rutgers Law School
  14. Being Moor United
  15. Bethany Baptist Church - Newark
  16. Bethel AME Woodbury
  17. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties
  18. Black Lives Matter Morristown
  19. Black Lives Matter NJ
  20. Black Women's Defense League
  21. Buffalo Black Law Student Association
  22. Campaign to End the New Jim Crow
  23. Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
  24. Community Against Violence Westbrook
  25. Concerned 44 at Seton Hall University
  26. Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance
  27. Curate Your Life
  28. Drug Policy Alliance
  29. Ejlh Counseling Service, LLC
  30. Embracing Race
  31. Erase the Redline
  32. Essex Rising
  33. Faith Christian Center
  34. Faith in New Jersey
  35. Faith Not Fear
  36. Families Civil Liberty Union
  37. Family Success Institute
  38. First Baptist Church - South Orange
  39. Food & Water Watch
  40. Fountain Baptist Church
  41. Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church
  42. Greater Newark Conservancy
  43. Green Party of New Jersey
  44. Hetrick-Martin Institute
  45. Hudson Partnership CMO
  46. I Have A Dream Foundation
  47. Independence: A Family of Services, Inc.
  48. Indivisible NJ
  49. Indivisible Cooper River
  50. Institute for Forgiveness
  51. Ironbound Community Corporation
  52. Justice for Families
  53. Juvenile Justice Coalition
  54. Juvenile Law Center
  55. La Casa de Don Pedro
  56. Latin American Law Students Association at University of Buffalo School of Law
  57. Lawrence Citizen Activists
  58. Louisiana Center for Children's Rights
  59. M+R Strategic Services
  60. Make the Road NJ
  61. Mansa Movement
  62. Mental Health Association of Monmouth County
  63. Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
  64. Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought
  65. MWM Black women Defense League-Newark
  66. My Brother's Keeper-Newark
  67. NAACP Morris County 
  68. NAACP New Jersey State Conference
  69. NAACP-Newark
  70. National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Club
  71. National Black Law Students Association (NABLSA)
  72. National Juvenile Defender Center
  73. NeighborCorps Re-entry Services
  74. New Brunswick Area NAACP
  75. New Community Corporation
  76. New Jersey 11th for Change
  77. New Jersey Association of Black Social Workers
  78. New Jersey Association on Correction
  79. New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  80. New Jersey Parents’ Caucus
  81. New Jersey Policy Perspective
  82. New Jersey Revolution Radio
  83. Newark Anti-Violence Coalition
  84. NJ 21 United
  85. Northeast Region of the National Black Law Students Association (Neblsa)
  86. Occupy Bergen County
  87. Opportunity Youth Network
  88. Our Revolution - Essex County
  89. Palm Street Block Association
  90. Parents Educating Parents, Inc.
  91. Parents United for Local School Education
  92. Princess Foundation
  93. Princeton Family Institute
  94. Recovery Advisory Group
  95. Reformed Church of Highland Park
  96. Reentry Coalition of New Jersey
  97. REFAL, Inc.
  98. Renewed Minds
  99. Rutgers UBHC
  100. Salvation & Social Justice
  101. Secondary Parents Council
  102. Shiloh Community Development Corp.
  103. SOMA Action
  104. SOMA Center for Peace and Justice
  105. South Jersey Women for Progressive Change
  106. SPAN (Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc.)
  107. STAND Central NJ
  108. Stepping Stones Resources, Inc.
  109. Students for Prison Education and Reform
  110. Tailored for Change, LLC
  111. The Diamond House of New Jersey
  112. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party
  113. The Sentencing Project
  114. The Stop the Violence Movement
  115. T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
  116. Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center-Newark
  117. UFAP Education Consultants
  118. Unified Vailsburg Services Organization
  119. Union County Peace Council
  120. Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry/NJ
  121. Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair
  122. United Presbyterian Church of West Orange
  123. Urban League of Essex County Young Professionals
  124. Walk-the-Walk NJ
  125. Women Who Never Give Up, Inc.
  126. Youth Advocates Program - New Jersey
  127. YouthBuild Newark
  128. Youth Court

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