Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal highlighted an effort by the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC), in conjunction with the Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Committee, that awarded more than $85,000 to two community-based organizations to provide resources to county-operated juvenile detention centers during the public health emergency through the Detention Center Support Initiative.
In New Jersey, county-operated detention centers serve young people who have been charged with juvenile offenses and for whom it has been determined by the courts cannot remain in the community while they await further court appearances, according to information provided by Grewal’s office.
This population has decreased by more than 80% since New Jersey began the implementation of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). As a result of these significant reductions, New Jersey’s counties have worked with the JJC to consolidate operations through shared service agreements resulting in a reduction from 17 centers in 2004 to 7 today, according to the statement.
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, county-operated juvenile detention centers were forced to abruptly change the day-to-day operations of their facilities, thereby limiting young people’s access to in-person family visits and professional services, as well as temporarily discontinuing prosocial and recreational activities in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus within the facilities, according to the statement.
Understanding the major impact that the public health crisis has had, and continues to have, on New Jersey’s juvenile detention centers, the JJDP Committee, through the JJC, made federal grant funds available to qualifying non-profit and for profit organizations to temporarily assist county juvenile detention centers in collaboration with the detention center administration and in concert with the JJC, according to the statement.
Programs provided through the grant funds may run until Sept. 30.
“Throughout the public health emergency, every effort was made to return as many young people as possible to their families to limit their exposure to COVID-19. The Detention Center Support Initiative is another example of creative thinking on the part of the JJC, and has allowed educational and prosocial activities to reach individuals when in-person services were prohibited,” Grewal said in the statement. “This initiative is an example of proactive work to continue services and rehabilitation for young people placed out of their homes during an unprecedented time of disruption.”
Middlesex College was awarded $54,990 in funding to provide virtual college classes for up to 10 youth in the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention Center and up to eight youth at the Camden County Juvenile Detention Center, according to the statement.
Students will receive college credit for course completion. The program also provides peer mentorship and access to other school resources.
The Middlesex County Juvenile Detention Center also receives youth from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, and Somerset counties. The Camden County Detention Center also receives youth from Gloucester County.
Jewish Family Services was awarded $31,200 in funding to provide anger management and mental health services to address the emotional needs of youth that were created by, or made worse by, the public health emergency, including parenting classes and consistent virtual recreation activities for up to 70 youth in the Atlantic County Juvenile Detention Center, according to the statement.
This center also receives youth from Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties.
“The public health emergency presented unique challenges to the health and well-being of many people, including youth involved with the justice system. These challenges fostered creative thinking among many, including the JJC, where we realized that we could provide unique resources to detention centers to ensure that this vulnerable youth population continued to receive critical services,” Jennifer LeBaron, Ph.D., acting executive director of the JJC, said in the statement. “Our strong partnerships developed over the course of New Jersey’s juvenile justice reform efforts allowed us to collaborate to help ensure that young people held in detention remained engaged and supported during the public health crisis.”
This initiative is funded through a grant from the federal Office of JJDP’s Formula Grants Program, which supports state and local delinquency prevention and intervention efforts and juvenile justice system improvements, according to the statement. The funds can be used to provide job training, mental health and substance abuse treatment, community-based programs and services, reentry/aftercare services, and school programs to prevent truancy.
Based on the philosophy that communities have a unique understanding of their local youth populations, the JJC administers millions of dollars in state and federal grants that encourage the development and enhancement of a continuum of community-based services for at-risk, court-involved, and delinquent youth. The JJDP Committee is responsible for setting funding priorities for the federal funds awarded through the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that support state- and local-level initiatives, community-based programs, and system reform efforts, according to the statement.
“The JJDP Committee recognized the significant impact that COVID-19 would have on the day-to-day operations and services at juvenile detention centers and knew that some county juvenile detention centers would benefit from additional resources to address these challenges,” the Honorable F. Lee Forrester, chairman of the JJDP Committee and a retired New Jersey Superior Court judge, said in the statement. “By identifying areas of need and making funding available, the JJDP Committee is fulfilling its role to support all aspects of the juvenile justice system and the youth they serve.”