January 31, 2017

Newark, NJ — As Black History Month begins, leaders from New Jersey’s faith community are raising their collective voices to call the extreme racial disparities that exist in New Jersey’s youth prisons a “moral crisis.”  The disparities, which were highlighted in a new report released by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, reflect that Black youth, incredibly, comprise nearly 75% of those committed to state juvenile facilities.  

“In New Jersey, incarceration is the default for too many young people, particularly Black children,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President and CEO of the Institute. “In far too many cases, Black youth are not given the latitude to make mistakes that all children make and learn from those mistakes. We are thankful to be joined by New Jersey’s leading faith-based voices who seek to change that unacceptable reality.”

Black and white young people engage in similar offenses at about the same rates overall, but New Jersey’s Black youth are disproportionately incarcerated in youth prisons.

“The racial disparities in New Jersey’s youth prisons highlight a moral crisis in our state,” said Rev. Charles Boyer of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Woodbury. “People of faith and of good will must come together to end the systemic assault on our most vulnerable children.”

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, a champion of juvenile justice reform, joined the faith leaders in their call to action.

“In order to allow an opportunity to succeed in the future, we must continue to eradicate the disparities in our prison system where almost three-quarters of all youth committed to juvenile facilities are African American,” said Ms. Sumter. “It is our responsibility to work collaboratively to ensure that a young person’s mistake does not eliminate redemption and they are afforded the opportunity to thrive in our State.”

Assemblywoman Sumter and Rev. Boyer were joined by leaders from an array of faiths: Rev. Sara Lilja, Director of the Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey and the chair of the Board of Directors of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey; Reverend Timothy Levi Jones of Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church; Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange; and Pastor Terry L. Richardson of the First Baptist Church of South Orange.