June 8, 2017

The Institute is collecting organizational signatories on a letter urging our elected leaders to close New Jersey’s youth prisons. To add your organization’s name, please email ewgreenberg@njisj.org:

June 2017

Dear Governor Chris Christie, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, Juvenile Justice Commission Executive Director Kevin Brown, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto:

Imagine what could be done in a kid’s life with $200,000 each year.  New Jersey spends that amount—an incredible $200,000—to incarcerate one child for one year in a youth prison.

On June 28, 1867, the New Jersey Training School for Boys, also known as Jamesburg, New Jersey’s largest youth prison, opened its doors.

Since then, thousands of children have passed through its gates.

And on June 28, 2017, its 150th anniversary, the undersigned organizations will launch a campaign outside of Jamesburg’s prison doors to declare that 150 years of youth incarceration is enough. This campaign, at its core, seeks to achieve racial and social justice for our state’s young people.

As organizations committed to advancing social justice in New Jersey, we are lifting our collective voices to transform New Jersey’s youth incarceration system into a community-based system of care by closing Jamesburg and Hayes—the state’s girls’ youth prison.

By shifting focus away from youth incarceration toward community-based programs—supported by state funding through the Juvenile Justice Commission’s state/community partnership program—we can ensure that our youth receive the rehabilitation they need to mature and grow.  

And for those young people who may need to be placed in secure confinement for public safety reasons, we must make sure that that these facilities are small, publicly operated, developmentally appropriate, and treatment centered, and provide wrap-around services that are close to home and familial support—not faraway youth prisons.  These publicly-run facilities should be staffed with public workers who are dedicated to the full rehabilitation of our children and to creating a more humane, treatment-focused justice system.  We believe that it is consistent to advocate for meaningful, public jobs for workers and a more humane, treatment-focused justice system for our young people.

To be clear, however, we cannot support perpetuating New Jersey’s failed system of youth incarceration. It has proven to be ineffective, racially discriminatory, and destructive to youth and their families. It is a moral stain on our state.  For more information on the broken regime of youth incarceration in our state, please see the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s  recent report “Bring our Children Home: Ain’t I a Child?” here.  

The undersigned organizations have joined this campaign and signed on to this letter because 150 years is enough.

Incredibly, two-thirds of kids incarcerated in New Jersey’s youth prisons are Black, even though Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates.  By contrast, less than six percent of kids in youth prison in the state, or less than 15 kids, are white. This gives New Jersey the 3rd-highest Black/white youth incarceration disparity rate in the nation.

Put simply, our state’s youth justice system treats certain kids as kids, unless they are Black or Brown.  

In New Jersey, of the approximately 500 young people released from commitment in state juvenile facilities in 2012, 80% had a new court filing/arrest, 68% had a new adjudication/conviction, and nearly 33% were recommitted within three years of release.

Studies have shown that long-term juvenile incarceration actually increases recidivism rates and hinders development, and children who are incarcerated are also more likely to be imprisoned and live in poverty as adults.

We seek to fundamentally reimagine our youth justice system by closing Jamesburg and Hayes youth prisons and investing in community-based intervention, prevention, diversion, and alternatives-to-incarceration programming for our youth.

Toward that end, we speak with one voice when we declare: 150 years is enough. It is time for us to close Jamesburg and Hayes, and to collectively create a community-based system of care for our young people.