Today, January 8, 2018, Governor Chris Christie announced his plan to close two of the state’s youth prisons—the New Jersey Training School for Boys (“Jamesburg”), the largest youth prison for boys, and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (“Hayes”), the state’s girls’ youth prison—and to build two youth rehabilitation centers based on national best practices.

“Governor Christie’s plan to close two of New Jersey’s failed youth prisons is one of the most significant youth justice reforms in 150 years,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which launched a campaign in June to close Jamesburg and Hayes. On June 28, 2017, Jamesburg’s 150th anniversary, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and over 50 partner organizations launched “150 Years is Enough,” a campaign to close Jamesburg and Hayes and invest in the creation of a community-based system of care. “We thank Governor Christie, Attorney General Porrino, and the entire administration for their leadership in declaring that 150 years of failed youth incarceration is enough and that it is time to fundamentally transform our broken youth justice system.”

New Jersey has the worst racial disparities among its incarcerated Black and white youth in the nation.  A Black child in New Jersey is, incredibly, more than 30 times more likely to be detained or committed to a youth facility than a white child. As of June 1, 2017, 70 percent of incarcerated kids are Black, and just 8 percent (only 18 kids) are white. This striking racial disparity persists even though Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates. 

“We look forward to working with the incoming administration and the Juvenile Justice Commission to chart the way forward for closing Jamesburg and Hayes, addressing the root causes of these staggering racial disparities, investing in the creation of a community-based system of care, and developing more rehabilitative out-of-home settings for our young people,” said Haygood. “Our primary goal is to ensure that our state’s youth—regardless of the color of their skin— receive the rehabilitation they need to mature and grow into responsible adults.  Doing so would position New Jersey to be a national leader in transformative youth justice.”

Not only is New Jersey’s system of youth incarceration racially discriminatory but it fails to reduce recidivism.

New Jersey’s current system of youth incarceration does not protect public safety,” said Retha Onitiri, the Campaign Manager for 150 Years is Enough. “Instead, it is a revolving door of recidivism.”

Of the 450 young people released from commitment in state youth facilities in 2013, 79 percent had a new court filing/arrest; 67 percent had a new adjudication/conviction; and nearly one-third (30 percent) were recommitted within three years of release. Research has also shown that children who are incarcerated are more likely to be imprisoned and to live in poverty as adults.

New Jersey spends around $250,000 each year to incarcerate each child in the state’s three youth prisons, even though they house less than half of their total capacity,” said Andrea McChristian, Institute Associate Counsel and primary author of the Institute’s report on New Jersey’s juvenile justice system, Bring Our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child. “Imagine what could be done in a child’s life with an investment of $250,000 each year.”

“Youth incarceration is a moral stain on our state,” said Rev. Charles Boyer. “We must reject the lie that our kids are unredeemable—that the children locked up in Jamesburg and Hayes should be judged by the worst thing they’ve ever done, rather than the best person they can ever be. We must do better by our kids and their future. We must create a youth justice system that is guided by the principle that every child can be saved. That is what this moment is all about.”

The Institute is releasing its transformative vision for youth justice in New Jersey, which you can find here. The Institute’s vision calls for:

  • Ensuring that the default for every child involved in the youth justice system is to stay at home with community-based wrap-around services and treatment. Studies have shown that, rather than our disastrous youth incarceration system, such programs can provide real and transformative rehabilitation for our youth.   
  • In the case that an out-of-home placement may be necessary for public safety reasons, these facilities should not be prisons. Following national best practices, these centers should be small, cottage-like, treatment-focused with intensive wrap-around services, close to home, and have a holistic and child-centered approach to rehabilitating each young person. 
  • It is imperative that the state also establishes a center in the northern region to truly envision a system where youth all across the state can be housed near vital family contacts.