Teens Rally In Newark: 'Build Up Kids, Not Prisons'

Patch reports: 

New Jersey Should Close its Youth Prisons and Reinvest the Money in Recovery, Education and Rehabilitation, These Students Say.


NEWARK, NJ — Build up kids… not prisons, their cry went.

On Saturday, a groundswell of young activists rallied in Newark, demanding that New Jersey officials back off their plans to construct three "youth development centers" as the state tries to transition to a new way of housing its juvenile inmates.

Instead, officials should be talking about how to invest in community-based care for vulnerable youth, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

During the rally – which kicked off at West Side High School on South Orange Avenue – protesters carried banners reading "150 Years Is Enough," a reference to their ongoing grassroots campaign to close the state's youth prisons and put the money into recovery, education and others forms of rehabilitation.

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Saturday's rally and march came a month after local activists blasted an alleged plan to locate a new "youth development center" in Newark, a city that already has several prisons within its borders.

After the activists' allegations surfaced, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka quickly reassured the public that there are no plans to bring a new prison to the Brick City.

"A new youth prison in Newark is simply not happening," Baraka said. "I support the concept of rehabilitative youth development centers, but existing youth facilities should be renovated for that purpose. Further, New Jersey's current youth incarceration system is a waste of precious taxpayer dollars, funneling millions each year into largely empty youth prisons."

However, Gov. Phil Murphy's tentative plan – to close existing youth prisons in the state and open smaller "youth development centers" in northern, central and southern New Jersey – is still causing some worry among some Newark residents and activists.

"New Jersey's plan to build three prisons carries a perverse economic incentive to fill them… with our kids," the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) wrote Saturday.

"The annual price tag for each kid is $289,000," the NJISJ stated. "But as the people have made clear, we do not need new youth prisons in Newark, or anywhere in New Jersey. Instead, we need to deeply invest 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 in prison—the highest racial disparity rate in America."

Before leaving office, Gov. Chris Christie announced the closure of two youth prisons, Jamesburg for boys and Hayes for girls. Both remain open, activists pointed out.

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