Slavery in New Jersey never ended, it simply evolved into structural racism through legislation and policies that aimed to disenfranchise Black people in nearly every aspect of their lives.
Slavery (early 1600s-1865)
- NJ’s complicated history with slavery began in the 1600s and was well established by the 1680s.
1804 Gradual Abolition Act
- This was the first legislation to move towards abolition in NJ but even it appeased slaveholders by granting freedom only to those born after 1804, and only after they were enslaved for a certain amount of time- for women this was 21 years and for men it was 25 years.
- NJ was both the last northern state to pass a gradual abolition act, and to abolish slavery. The state legislature rejected the 13th Amendment and refused to ratify it until January 1866, nearly a month after southern states such as Georgia and Alabama.
“Apprenticeship for Life” (1846-1865)
- 1846 legislation finally outlawed slavery and declared any Black children born after its passing to be free. This did not free those who were enslaved and born before 1804, instead they became “apprentices” for life
- These apprenticeships allowed categorical slavery to persist nearly a decade after the state claimed to have begun abolition
Convict Leasing (1800s-1930s)
- Legally allowed through the 13th Amendment, convict leasing permitted individuals, firms, farms or plantations to “lease” convicts from prison to work for them, with the caveat that they were responsible for feeding, clothing and housing.
- This not only mimicked the pre-abolition slave purchasing process, but additionally allowed for Black people to be held in slave-like conditions while NJ and the US claimed to have abolished chattel slavery.
Correctional Industries (1918-Present)
- Developed directly from convict leasing, the NJ State Correctional Industries were established in 1918.
- Correctional Industries is any use of NJ prisoners in a productive capacity, and the Department of Correction justifies this use of prisoners in saying that it “reduces prison disorder and prepared inmates for a successful life after release from prison.”
Youth Incarceration (1867-Present)
- NJ opened its largest juvenile detention center in 1867, and since has invested millions of dollars into incarcerating children for miniscule offenses.
- Today, NJ has the largest Black-white youth incarceration disparity in the nation.
- Black youth are disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention centers that do not meet their intended goals of being safely rehabilitated in their communities.
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