MONROE — The message was made loud and clear at a rally outside of the New Jersey Training School for Boys: 150 years of youth incarceration is enough.
The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the Youth Justice New Jersey coalition, based in Newark, launched a campaign on June 28 outside of the training school, also known as Jamesburg, located on Grace Hill Road in Monroe, calling for its closure as well as the closure of the girls prison, the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, also known as Hayes, in Bordentown.
More than 50 organizations were represented from across the state at the rally including the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) State Conference, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of New Jersey, the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, the Drug Policy Alliance, Faith in New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Advocates for Children of New Jersey and My Brother’s Keeper-Newark.
The Newark Boy’s Chorus School was on hand to sing about hope.
Ryan P. Haygood, president and chief executive officer for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the Youth Justice New Jersey coalition, said on June 28, 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, the Jamesburg youth prison opened.
“Today it is the largest youth prison for boys in the state of New Jersey and today, June 28, 2017, we are here collectively to lift our voices to say 150 years is enough,” he said.
According to the state Attorney General’s office, the New Jersey Training School for Boys houses approximately 200 male juveniles from 12-23 years of age. The school’s primary focus is to provide care, treatment and custody for juveniles committed by the courts and to create programs that will rehabilitate young offenders.
Haygood said they know that is not happening in the current juvenile justice system.
“The system is replete with racial disparities,” he said ,noting that crime by black and white youth occur at the same rate; however, the number of black and white youth incarcerated largely differs.
Out of 222 youth who are incarcerated in the state’s three youth prisons, as of Jan. 1, just 13 are white, despite research that shows black and white youth have similar rates of offending.
Haygood said their goal is to achieve racial and social justice for their young people.
“We are going to do that by closing Jamesburg and Hayes and transforming our youth justice program into a community-based system of care,” he said. “We have to make sure our young people achieve the rehabilitation that they so desperately deserve so they can mature and become young responsible adults.”
Retha Onitiri, the Juvenile Justice campaign manager, said all of their children deserve a second chance.
“There are no throwaway children,” she said.
Institute Associate Counsel Andrew McChristian said they must move to a system where every child is treated like a child regardless of race.
Haygood said the system has a revolving door of recidivism.
“Studies show long-term incarceration actually increases recidivism,” he said. “This simply is a system failing our young people. … It punishes the very children who are in need of rehabilitation, in need of intensive wraparound developmentally appropriate support and in need of community support so they can return to their communities whole.”
Haygood said that is why the organizations are rallying for change to the current juvenile justice system.
“Change always happens from the ground up in our communities and that is what this moment is about,” he said. “We want to effectuate change for our young people; it’s going to happen from the ground up in our communities.”
Newark resident Jessica Kiiee, of the Urban League organization, held a sign that read “Close Youth Prisons!”
“For me [my concern] is it costs more to put youth in prison than to educate, care, love and support,” she said.
Sylvia Walker of North Plainfield, Susan MacDonnell of Monroe, Claudia Cohen of Westfield and Mirah Riben of Monroe came to the rally to show their support.
They held up signs reading “Youth Prison + No Real Rehab? C’mon NJ!!” and “Stop Caging Our Children Like Wild Animals — Close the Youth Prisons.”
“We have one of the largest prison populations – it’s nothing to be proud of and it’s shameful,” Riben said.
During the rally, a number of faith leaders shared their support and blessings.
“It’s time to stop using black children to feed the prison economy and start using those same dollars to invest in the mental, spiritual, behavioral and educational economy of black children,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, founder of Salvation and Social Justice and Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury. “Like slavery, youth incarceration in New Jersey is a system that is based on the exploitation of black bodies. And like slavery, this morally bankrupt system cannot be reformed. It must be abolished.”
Sharon Lauchaire, spokesperson for the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC), which oversees the New Jersey Training School for Boys and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, said the JCC has a long history of working with community partners and advocates.
She noted that it has received national recognition for its efforts in juvenile justice reform having been designated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as its national model for implementation of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative since 2004.
“The JCC is proud of the progress thus far and will continue to do everything in its power to further improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system,” she said.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.