NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released $600k to Damage Our Kids Forever: A Youth Incarceration Disaster, a report addressing the myriad costs that youth incarceration in New Jersey imposes on individual youth, their families and the state – financial, emotional and beyond. The report draws upon the stories of people impacted by youth incarceration, some who continue to feel the emotional scars decades later.

In the upcoming fiscal year, New Jersey plans to spend $608,095 to incarcerate each youth in an antiquated, bloated and harmful system that incarcerates Black kids at 18 times the rate of white kids, even though they commit most offenses at similar rates. Over the past decade, New Jersey has invested over half a billion dollars in a broken youth incarceration system designed to lock up Black and Latina/o kids – enough money to provide free in-state tuition at Rutgers University for nearly 40,000 students or to increase New Jersey’s support for violence intervention programs thirty-fold.

“New Jersey spends an outrageous amount of money on youth prisons that are at record low population levels but are staffed as if at full capacity – youth prisons that do not rehabilitate the kids that are locked up, do not increase public safety and that separate our young people from their families,” said Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and primary author of the report.

$600k to Damage Our Kids Forever argues that New Jersey’s youth prisons should finally be closed and that funding should be invested into community-based programs that support young people, keep them out of the system and have a proven track record. The Institute’s What Comes After Youth Prisons brief lays out what a healthy alternative system could look like.

“The costs of youth incarceration are not just financial,” said Ashanti Jones, Campaign Manager of the Institute’s 150 Years is Enough Campaign. “Youth prisons subject youth to abuse, negatively impact youth mental health, cause recidivism and cause youth to miss opportunities that could positively impact their futures. The youth prison system causes tremendous financial strain on families who must pay for outstanding legal fees, travel costs to and from prison and commissary costs – all while losing out on income and companionship from their youth. New Jersey’s youth justice system is a broken relic of the past and must be completely transformed.”

Last month, the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey released a report calling for the building of three new youth prisons to replace the current ones when they close. The Institute and its partners, who were members of the task force, issued a dissent to this proposal, calling on the state to not squander a ripe opportunity to truly invest in New Jersey’s youth.

Instead, New Jersey should follow the recommendations laid out in $600K to Damage Our Kids Forever, including:

  1. The Murphy administration should announce a timeline for closing New Jersey’s three youth prisons;
  2. New Jersey should codify youth justice transformation into law, including an investment of $100M for youth programs, by reintroducing and passing the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act;
  3. New Jersey should successfully implement the Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program and expand it statewide; and
  4. New Jersey should prevent youth prosecuted as adults from being issued fines and fees, must eliminate outstanding fines and fees in their cases and eliminate outstanding public defender fees for youth.

Videos of people impacted by the youth justice system can be found here, and media interviews can be arranged with impacted people upon request.