INTRODUCTION

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Frederick Douglass

Mary McLeod Bethune.      

Nat King Cole.      

W.E.B. DuBois.      

Duke Ellington.      

Paul Robeson.       

Booker T. Washington. 

As a student, could you imagine having these luminaries visit your school? Students at the Bordentown School did not have to.

For more than half a century, New Jersey made an investment in cultivating Black excellence and building strong children through its operation of the Manual and Industrial Training School for Colored Youth (“the Bordentown School”), an elite public boarding school for New Jersey’s Black youth.

Originally founded in 1886 by formerly enslaved Reverend Walter Rice, the Bordentown School was referred to as the “Tuskegee of the North” — a reference to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama — and educated generations of New Jersey’s Black young people. The school developed a reputation for preparing Black students for a lifetime of leadership through vocational training and academic studies.

Empowered by this education, graduates of the school enjoyed successful careers in fields such as law, medicine, education and skilled trades. The Bordentown School attracted visits from the luminaries above in addition to Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and more.

In 1947, New Jersey adopted a state constitutional provision that prohibited public school segregation and required the Bordentown School to integrate the following year.

After the school attracted only two white students, New Jersey closed the Bordentown School in 1955, just one year after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, arguing that it perpetuated racial segregation. More than sixty years after New Jersey closed the Bordentown School’s doors, most of its many campus buildings stand abandoned.

Some, however, remain in use.

Today, on a site that once served as a pinnacle of Black excellence and achievement sits the Johnstone Campus, which houses New Jersey’s only youth prison for girls — the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, also known as Hayes. Next to Hayes is the Albert Elias Residential Community Home, used as a work readiness program to house justice-involved young men. Across the street sits another youth prison, the Juvenile Medium Secure Facility (“JMSF”) for boys.

Bordentown is the school-to-prison pipeline personified.

Where New Jersey once made investments in building strong Black children, it now invests a staggering sum of nearly $456,000 for the incarceration of a single youth per year, with most of those young people being Black.

Imagine what could be done in the life of a young person with an annual investment of $456,000 to build them up — not to incarcerate them.  And because Black kids are almost 29 times more likely to be incarcerated than white kids even though they commit most crimes at similar rates, this amounts to a specific investment in incarcerating Black children.

Notwithstanding this substantial investment in youth incarceration, New Jersey’s recidivism rate shows that our kids are no better for it when they leave: 74% have a new court filing or arrest and 24% are reincarcerated within three years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 150 Years Is Enough Campaign

 

More than a century and a half ago, Frederick Douglass famously argued that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Douglass’ words echo today with an eerie precision in New Jersey’s three youth prisons: Hayes, JMSF and the New Jersey Training School for Boys (“Jamesburg”), which was opened on June 28, 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War.

On Jamesburg’s 150th anniversary, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and partners launched the 150 Years is Enough campaign to transform New Jersey’s shameful youth justice system by closing its youth prisons and reinvesting resources into the creation of a community-based system of care.

Anchored in the belief that kids do not belong in prison, that every young person can be saved and that there are no throwaway kids, we built a diverse coalition of thousands of people across New Jersey and stood in front of Jamesburg with nearly 500 people of all ages, races, faiths and genders to demand a system that invests in the possibility of every child.

Just six months after the launch of the campaign, former Governor Chris Christie and former Attorney General Chris Porrino, in one of the most significant youth justice announcements in a generation, announced that Jamesburg and Hayes would close and that they would be replaced with two smaller youth rehabilitation centers – not prisons – based on national best practices.

This announcement was just the beginning.

The 150 Years is Enough Campaign partners undertook the difficult work of beginning to repair the impact of incarceration’s damage on the Black youth of our state for over 150 years.

The Campaign successfully drew state and national attention to New Jersey’s staggering youth prison racial disparities, which remain the worst in America, and championed an Attorney General directive providing for more uniform use of stationhouse adjustments, a key tool for diverting kids away from youth prison.

This reform, among others, helped New Jersey to reduce its prison population from its capacity of approximately 370 youth, with 123 kids incarcerated today.

The Campaign also successfully championed legislation that eliminated oppressive fines and fees for young people in the criminal justice system.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Campaign’s rapid response led New Jersey to become the first state in the nation to test all of its incarcerated youth for COVID-19, the additional release of over 100 young people from state facilities in response to the virus, and the 2021 appropriation of $8.4 million – nearly 20 percent of New Jersey’s youth prison budget that year – for the development of four youth restorative justice hubs in communities most impacted by youth incarceration.   

In February, the first of those hubs opened in the City of Newark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prisons Close, Opportunities Open:

Recommendations for Youth Justice

 

While New Jersey’s youth justice achievements have been many and meaningful, more is required.

First, New Jersey must set a closure timeline for its three youth prisons.

Despite Governor Christie’s announcement to close Jamesburg and Hayes, both – six years later – remain open. Governor Murphy must make Governor Christie’s announcement real by shuttering New Jersey’s youth prisons.

Second, substantial cost savings from these closures should be reinvested into expanding community-based programming.

Programs should prioritize prevention, intervention, diversion and incarceration alternatives.

Third, for those young people who require a secure setting for public safety reasons, those rehabilitation facilities should be publicly run.

Fourth, New Jersey must work with stakeholders to develop a vision to repurpose the Juvenile Medium Security Facility and the Jamesburg prison for community use. 

While this report and the following recommendation urges New Jersey to close Hayes and reopen a modern-day Bordentown School, the state should also transform the other youth prisons for public use.

Fifth, the Governor/Attorney General should appoint members to a Commission to develop a plan for reopening a modern-day, 21st Century Bordentown School on the existing campus of Hayes.

 

 

The Prison-to-School Pipeline:

Reopening a 21st Century Bordentown School

 

 

I. The Bordentown School: A Black Utopia

“Bordentown endeavors to develop leaders … strong active men and women of executive ability who can mould public opinion and will make their presence felt for the good of a community.”
LESTER B. GRANGER, THE SOUTHERN WORKMAN – MAY 1927
“Everything we did, we excelled in. They tried to get the best performance no matter what it was — academics, sports, music, vocations. It changed my whole life.”
Nate Hampton, Class of 1948, head plumber
“Our teachers came from Harvard, Princeton, Radcliffe, Rutgers, best universities in America.”
Dr. Arthur Symes, Bordentown Graduate, and went on to become an architect and Dean of Architecture at Southern University

Emerging after emancipation and during the migration of Black Americans from Southern states to the North, the Bordentown School embodied hope for Black people journeying toward freedom.

Born from the visionary mind of Reverend Walter Rice, a formerly enslaved Civil War veteran and clergy member of the AME Church, this institution became the Black utopia that invested in Black students the way Frederick Douglass envisioned: investments designed to build strong children, with a particular focus on educating young people who, against a backdrop of racism, might otherwise be steered into the criminal legal system as kids and adults.

In the wake of slavery’s shadows, and mindful of the times in which Black people lived, the Bordentown School prepared Black people for employment in the North in burgeoning industries where employment could be found: agriculture, woodworking, automotive industries and domestic sciences for women.

For almost seven decades, the Bordentown School cultivated trailblazing Black pioneers who went on to serve as vanguards of industries in New Jersey and beyond.

The Bordentown School was created at a time when New Jersey’s child welfare system did not expand its services to Black families. As a result, when Black boys struggled with issues related to family neglect, or when Black girls confronted similar issues or pregnancy, they were sent to New Jersey’s State Home for Boys, now the Jamesburg Youth Prison and the State Home for Girls, respectively.

As Mr. Granger and the many alumni who have spoken about their time at the Bordentown School shared, Bordentown was developed to address the needs of Black kids whom New Jersey would otherwise incarcerate.

Black families saw the Bordentown School as a safe haven from this harsh reality, and sent their youth to the school.

The rigorous dual education curriculum, known as the “combination course,” involving pairing a standard academic education with a skilled trade, was designed to instill discipline, pride and academic excellence in students.

The combination course curriculum, developed under the leadership of then-Principal W.R. Valentine, was designed to ensure graduates were competitive in the workforce with skills appropriate for multiple trades.

In 1891, 82% of Bordentown graduates were gainfully employed and another 12% continued their education in colleges or technical schools, even as 60% of Black adults at that time were unemployed.

The Bordentown School not only prepared students with the technical skills to enter a trade, but it also equipped students to pursue careers in law, education, oceanography, architecture and more. The Bordentown School’s unique approach to educating Black students drew the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt, and visits from Albert Einstein, Mary McLeod Bethune, Nat King Cole, W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Booker T. Washington and others. It also drew faculty talent from the top universities in the country.

The Bordentown School’s practical instruction provided students with real-world experience. Agriculture students tended to the land and animals; domestic science majors prepared daily meals for the campus; printing students ran the award-winning campus newspaper, Ironside Echo; plumbing students handled maintenance on campus; and automotive majors repaired cars.

Bordentown also boasted a vibrant athletic culture, with its high school football teams competing and winning against college teams and its cheer, tennis and soccer teams securing numerous county and state awards.

II. The Closure of the Bordentown School

“The time has come when we should stop giving lip service to the word integration and make some concrete steps to secure it.”
New Jersey Senator Albert McCay(R), Governor’s Meeting, June 3, 1955
“An institution with a tradition for service such as is true of Tuskegee could hardly be expected to be integrated out of existence.”
Dr. Ambrose Caliver, Assistant US Commissioner of Education; on the Bordentown School

In 1948, in its attempt to integrate its schools, New Jersey removed “for colored youth” from the name of the Bordentown School. Despite the changed name, few white families sent their children to the school.

In 1955, one year after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision ended school segregation, the school attracted two white students.

That same year, after Bordentown served as a standard of excellence in Black education for more than seven decades, the New Jersey legislature, citing the failure to integrate the Bordentown School, voted to close the school.

The legislative Assembly then convened the Commission to Study the Proposed Discontinuance of Bordentown Manual Training School to urge the State Board of Education to weigh in on the decision.

On June 1, 1955, the Commission issued a report stating that it did not support closing the school. The Commission concluded that New Jersey could have done more to integrate the school. Indeed, the Commission found that New Jersey never made a meaningful effort to integrate the school, which deserved the opportunity to properly achieve integration.

Despite public and legislative resistance, and the recommendations of the Commission, Governor Robert B. Meyer convinced New Jersey’s legislature to vote to close the Bordentown School, effective June 15, 1955.

Two months after the final Bordentown School class graduated from the school in 1955, New Jersey converted the campus into the Edward R. Johnstone Training and Research Center, a 500-bed institution for developmentally disabled people. The Center operated for 40 years until its closing in 1993.

Four years later, in 1997, on a campus that once served as a pinnacle of Black excellence and achievement, New Jersey opened its only youth prison for girls — the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, also known as Hayes, and the Albert Elias Residential Community Home which houses the Juvenile Justice Commission’s work readiness program for up to 18 justice-involved young men.  Across the street sits another youth prison, the Juvenile Medium Secure Facility (“JMSF”) for boys.

Bordentown is the school-to-prison pipeline personified.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

III. A Vision for a Modern Bordentown School:

Hearing from Stakeholders

“I also know from sort of secondhand experience how difficult it can be for finding technical, vocational, modern technical type training, basically what the Bordentown School did back when it was functioning. I mean, those demands are still there now. Especially when certain things like workshops and metal shops and whatnot are being taken out of your traditional high schools and middle schools.”
Bordentown Resident, Focus Group Participant
“I think the young people need that village-type of education where you live together, learn how to be self-sufficient … learn how to live with the discipline, respect it and enjoy it, I think the students today don’t really have the fun that we had going to school. I’m speaking of having pride and wanting to get up and go to school.”
Betty Griffith-Hunter, Class of 1952
“And certainly, if that school was made available to young people, I think it would be … accepted in our community as a Black community of people all over this country, all over the state.”
Bordentown Resident, Focus Group Participant
“We have such very rich history here, very rich history, part of which relates to that land, because Charles Stewart, who is quite famous, of Old Ironsides fame, had a home there right by the river. And so there’s that history, along with, of course, the history of the school, which is so extraordinary. So I think there are probably many of us who would want to do something that in some way would be able to recognize and highlight the history of that property.”
Member of Bordentown Historical Society, Focus Group Participant
“We have a tremendous amount of material that we have no space to exhibit, and it would be a perfect situation to be able to show the history of that site and Bordentown in general as a small museum.”
Member of Bordentown Historical Society, Focus Group Participant
“Building a cultural center is an interesting idea … it would be a great undertaking and a tribute to the school. So we can have some place to house all of the artifacts. A museum would also be great so people from all over can come and learn about Bordentown School.”
Betty Roberts Campbell, daughter of Leander J. Roberts Sr., Printing Teacher 1917-1955; Interviewee
“The place should be revitalized, artists can make murals of important Black people who’ve helped the school; local businesses can provide food and nail techs, hairstylists, and barbers can engage the community in events.”
New Jersey Youth, Focus Group Participant
“It should feel like a second home to people … the space should be open and walkable, [people want to] see trees, be grounded in nature, have benches, and open to the community.”
New Jersey Youth, Focus Group Participant
“Have we considered transitional housing for justice-involved youth as they transition back into the world? Some of them do not have safe homes, or a home at all to go back to. Take the prison aspect out of the building and make it a home.”
New Jersey Youth, Focus Group Participant

What would a modern 21st century Bordentown School look like?

The Institute and its 150 Years is Enough Campaign partners conducted focus groups and posed this question to various stakeholders, including New Jersey high school-aged youth; descendants of the Bordentown founder, Rev. Walter A. Rice; Bordentown School alumni, government and other officials; individuals who grew up on the campus as children of the faculty; a former staff member of the Hayes youth prison; representatives from community-based organizations; and members of the Bordentown Historical Society.

Focus group participants and interviewees expressed that Hayes should be repurposed to benefit the surrounding communities, such as for education, youth, economic development, workforce investment, agriculture, parks and recreational purposes.

Throughout these focus group sessions and interviews, valuable conversations were recorded, contributing to our recommendations outlined below. Some of the overarching questions addressed in the focus groups were:

 

  1. Following the closure of the youth prisons on the Johnstone campus, should the land and buildings be repurposed for public use?
  2. If so, what suggestions do you have for potential replacements for the prisons?

 

Additionally, a series of follow-up questions were posed based on responses. All of these responses are accessible for public review.

As most of the alumni of Bordentown School have passed away, in addition to our focus groups, we used secondary data presented in interviews, documentaries and written works featuring the views of these valued voices to inform our Bordentown recommendations.

Two prominent proposals emerged from our focus groups and research of key stakeholder views.

Proposal 1:

The Governor/Attorney General should appoint a Commission to explore how to restore a portion of the Bordentown/Johnstone Campus land as a modern Bordentown School, offering robust dual-education opportunities and inclusive of all interested

 

The Bordentown campus has been designated as a registered historic site. In the application for it to receive this designation, the site is described as having the “feel and look of a secondary school campus.” Indeed, the remaining buildings could be renovated to serve as a unique educational institution once again.

In realizing the vision for a modern-day Bordentown school, we must achieve a model that has both a fulfilling curriculum and offers equitable access to all interested students.

To establish a curriculum most aligned with the original Bordentown School, we urge New Jersey to use a high school early college model.

Operated in many districts across the country, high school early college models are designed to increase underrepresented students’ access to a postsecondary credential. The goal is to minimize challenges in the transition to postsecondary education for students for whom access has historically been problematic. Graduates of this model exit high school with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, which mirrors Bordentown’s model of graduating students with a high school diploma and trade certification allowing entry into the workforce, which was revolutionary during a time when employment for people of color was challenging.

To ensure inclusive access to this new school, interested students should be empowered to use the Interdistrict Public School Choice program to attend the school if they live outside of Bordentown.

Additionally, the state should directly support the school. New Jersey already directly supports one such early college high school model with a line item in the state budget.

To fully explore these options for a modern Bordentown school, the Governor/Attorney General should appoint a Commission of experts and stakeholders to make recommendations for a successful reopening of the Bordentown School.

 

Proposal 2:

The state should close the Albert Elias Residential Community Home, which sits right next to the Hayes Girls’ Prison and is used as a work readiness program to house justice-involved young men. That land should be repurposed for community use and be open to the public. No semblance of the prison system should remain on the land that once housed the great Bordentown school. 

 

Repurposing prisons for public use is not a new idea. 

New York, Tennessee, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Texas and North Carolina have successfully reimagined prisons for public use, introducing opportunities such as cannabis processing, film production and affordable housing.

In considering the transformation of Albert Elias Residential Community Home – as well as the Jamesburg and JMSF facilities – New Jersey must envision a future that prioritizes innovation, economic growth and community well-being. Exploring alternative uses for these facilities that align with emerging industries, technology or sustainable initiatives can position New Jersey as a pioneer in repurposing correctional spaces. By fostering environments that promote education, skill development and entrepreneurship, New Jersey can create lasting positive impacts for its residents. New Jersey has an opportunity to restore this historic ground to what it once was, and in doing so move toward a future that prioritizes hope, healing, rehabilitation, community engagement and progress.

 

CONCLUSION

“There are those who dream of seeing someday on the banks of the Delaware an educational center devoted to the technical instruction of Northern boys and girls, opening its doors, not only to New Jersey residents but to the Negro youth of the entire country.”
Lester B. Granger, The Southern Workman, 1937 

New Jersey’s youth justice achievements have been many and meaningful. Still, more is required of New Jersey.

New Jersey’s youth prisons are a blight on the state’s history and present—and they undermine the progress currently being made in youth justice.

The time to close them and look toward the future is now.

First, New Jersey must set a closure timeline for its three youth prisons.

Second, substantial cost savings from these closures should be reinvested into expanding community-based programming.

Third, for those young people who require a secure setting for public safety reasons, those rehabilitation facilities should be publicly run.

Fourth, New Jersey must work with stakeholders to develop a vision to repurpose the Juvenile Medium Security Facility and the Jamesburg prison for community use.

Finally, the Governor/Attorney General should appoint members to a Council to develop a plan for reopening a modern-day, 21st Century Bordentown School on the existing campus of Hayes.

New Jersey has before it an opportunity to build a prison-to-school pipeline.

We can reimagine a modern, 21st-century Bordentown School that creates opportunities for New Jersey to dually train students in academics and modern trades with an emphasis on STEM, tech and other emerging industries.

In the true spirit of the Tuskegee of the North, a robust dual education provides opportunities for responsibility, independence and students ready to enter the workforce.

New Jersey must confront its past and answer the urgent call for reparative justice. The time is now for New Jersey to fulfill the promise of the Bordentown School, ensuring a future that transcends the shadows of its history and enduring present.