June 17, 2024

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released From Shackles to Scholarship: A Vision for a 21st Century Bordentown School, a report that urges New Jersey to close its three youth prions, reinvest in community-based programs and establish a 21st Century version of the illustrious Bordentown School.

The Bordentown School, formally the Manual and Industrial Training School, was founded by formerly enslaved Civil War veteran Rev. Walter Rice in 1866 as the “Tuskegee of the North.” It developed a sterling reputation for preparing Black students for a lifetime of leadership through vocational training and academic studies.

“Everything we did, we excelled in,” said Nate Hampton, former Bordentown student, class of 1948, in a 2014 interview. “They tried to get the best performance, no matter what it was – academic, sports, music, vocations. It changed my whole life.”

The Bordentown School closed in 1955 after it failed to receive the support necessary to succeed after Brown v. Board of Education. In a tragic twist in 1997, the campus was repurposed as a site for the Hayes girls youth prison and the Juvenile Medium Security Facility for youth.

“The Bordentown School was a beacon of Black excellence in New Jersey and across the country. Now, on a campus that produced lawyers, doctors and skilled tradespeople and was visited by luminaries like Booker T. Washington and Paul Robeson, we are incarcerating our young people – the embodiment of a school to prison pipeline,” said Ashanti Jones, Policy Analyst at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and primary author of the report. “In the very place we once saw investment in our youth, we now see incarceration. Where we once saw promise, we now see prisons.”

From Shackles to Scholarship: A Vision for a 21st Century Bordentown School documents the history and impact of the Bordentown School and builds the case for returning Hayes youth prison back to a center for learning and excellence that would serve the New Jersey community and support our young people.

“Frederick Douglass said that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” added Jones. “New Jersey now has the opportunity to redeem itself by bringing that truth to life – and by turning away from criminalizing our youth toward building them up.”