Legislators and Educators Call for an Investment in a Prison-to-School Pipeline in New Jersey:
Close New Jersey’s Girls’ Prison and Reopen the Bordentown School
On February 28, Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian released her report, Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth, which details the Bordentown campus’ transformation from school to prison, as well as the modern-day, devastating impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on New Jersey’s youth of color. In conjunction with the report’s release, the Institute convened a press call with leading legislators and educators to call for New Jersey to build a prison-to-school pipeline by closing the only girls’ youth prison and rebuilding the Bordentown School.
“It is imperative that we rebuild our youth justice system to be transformative and prioritize rehabilitation,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. “The solutions to reform our criminal justice system must begin with affirming and preserving the humanity of our children. By closing down Hayes we are shutting one of the revolving doors of recidivism and recommitting ourselves to community uplift and support of our youth to help them thrive into adulthood. Beyond closing down this facility, I am proud that the state of New Jersey is taking the lead toward racial and social justice that will ultimately move this nation toward a more perfect union.”
“Our new youth justice system must begin to correct the inequities and heal the pain felt by families of color who have been victimized by the youth justice system,” added Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. “Black children in New Jersey are over 30 times more likely than their white peers to be detained or committed, even though black and white children commit most offenses at similar rates. These shameful disparities exist and persist because of racially discriminatory policy decisions that disproportionately impact African-American children.”
Today, Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian is releasing her report Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth, which details the Bordentown campus’ transformation from school to prison, as well as the modern-day, devastating impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on New Jersey’s youth of color.
For more than fifty years, New Jersey ran the Bordentown School, an elite public boarding school for black youth. Known as the “Tuskegee of the North,” the school attracted visits from luminaries like W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Albert Einstein, and Paul Robeson. Today, however, the campus is home to the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, known as Hayes, New Jersey’s only youth prison for girls.
“The Bordentown campus, once a pinnacle of black uplift, is home to Hayes, New Jersey’s only youth prison for girls. And across the street sits the Juvenile Medium Security Facility, New Jersey’s most secure youth prison for boys,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Institute President and CEO. “Bordentown is, literally, the school to prison pipeline realized.”
According to the Institute’s report’s findings:
- During the 2013-2014 school year, black students, who made up about 16% of total enrollment in New Jersey, made up an estimated 35.3% of students receiving one or more in-school suspensions, 43.7% of students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions, and 37% of students receiving expulsions with or without educational services. Black students in the state also made up an estimated 34.5% of school-related arrests and 31.4% of referrals to law enforcement.
- Over the 2013-2014 school year, while black girls made up only 16.2% of female students in New Jersey, they made up an estimated half (50.4%) of girls receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions, 30.2% of girls receiving expulsions with or without educational services, 37.6% of girls subject to school related arrests, and 33.9% of girls referred to law enforcement.
- As of June 1, 2017, there are 232 youth incarcerated in New Jersey’s three youth prisons. Of this number, 163 are black and only eighteen are white. Of the twelve girls in prison at Hayes, the majority (75%) are black.
“These racial disparities do not reflect greater culpability of black children than their white peers, as black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates,” said primary author and Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian. “Rather, these disparities exist, in part, because of our schools’ inability to see black children as children. Our new youth justice system must view all children as children, and provide them with the grace, compassion, and support they need.”
In response to the Institute’s 150 Years is Enough campaign, former Governor Chris Christie announced one of the most significant youth justice reforms in more than a century: New Jersey will close two of its failed youth prisons—Hayes and the New Jersey Training School for Boys (also known as Jamesburg)—and build two smaller youth rehabilitation centers based on national best practices.
The Institute’s report makes the following proposals:
Close Hayes: Following the Christie administration’s historic announcement, the state must take immediate steps to close Hayes. Incarcerating our state’s girls in a faraway and largely empty youth prison is a failed experiment that conflicts with national best practices.
Reopen the Bordentown School: New Jersey must take immediate steps to close Hayes and create a prison-to-school pipeline in its place by reinvesting funds into rebuilding a modern Bordentown School. The new Bordentown School should attract and retain New Jersey students from a range of racial, financial, and other demographics. The school curriculum and programming should be centered on racial and social justice, reconciliation, and the celebration of diverse voices and backgrounds.
Conduct a Qualitative Study of the School-to-Prison Pipeline: The New Jersey Department of Education should conduct a statewide, comprehensive school-to-prison pipeline qualitative study. The research should include focus groups and interviews with students, families, teachers, school law enforcement, guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, administrators, and others involved with school environments, and should primarily target school districts with high rates of suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement referrals, and arrests.
Improve Data Collection Efforts: Although the federal Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) is a mandatory data collection, it is missing data from key jurisdictions—such as the entire Newark public school district. The CRDC must engage the necessary accountability measures to ensure collection from all schools throughout the nation and should clearly publicize what jurisdictions (if any) are not included in the collection, and why. The New Jersey Department of Education should also disaggregate statewide data on expulsions and suspensions by race and gender.
“If we truly want to end the school-to-prison pipeline in this state, we will take the recommendations offered seriously and inject these ideas into every aspect of how we discuss, design, and implement educational policies and reform,” said Dr. Lauren Wells, who specializes in public education and designing education to cultivate and nurture the intellect, talent, and self-determination of black and brown children. “Reopening the Bordentown School would serve as a critical marker of our commitment to this work.”