150 years is enough. Time to #CloseJamesburg.

Posted on June 13, 2017

On June 28, 1867, New Jersey’s largest youth prison, the New Jersey Training School for Boys, also known as Jamesburg, opened. And exactly 150 years later, on June 28, 2017, ACNJ, as member of the Youth Justice New Jersey Coalition, will rally to say, “150 years is enough.”

 Join us at this important event.

It is time to close Jamesburg and reinvest those funds into a community-based system of care. Members of the Youth Justice New Jersey Coalition are urging New Jersey officials to fundamentally reimagine the state’s youth justice system. Priorities include:

  • developing and strengthening community-based intervention,
  • prevention and diversion
  • alternatives-to-incarceration programming for our youth.

The research supports this change. A new  report, The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model, documents how conclusively youth prisons have failed at both protecting the community and turning young lives around. The report makes the case for states and localities to adopt a different approach, one that protects public safety and focuses on what works.

The youth prison model should be replaced with a continuum of community-based programs. For those young people who may need to be placed in secure confinement, the environment should reflect “smaller homelike facilities that prioritize age-appropriate rehabilitation.” The report features several states that have moved in this direction, demonstrating that community-based approaches can reduce recidivism, control costs and promote public safety.

One of the authors of this report, Patrick McCarthy, is president and chief executive officer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The other authors – Miriam Shark, a former associate director at the Foundation, and Vincent Schiraldi, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, both were once youth correctional administrators.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation published a ground-breaking study in 2011, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Reliance on Juvenile Incarceration, which showed that America’s overreliance on youth incarceration is dangerous, ineffective, obsolete, wasteful and unnecessary, while providing no net benefit to public safety. The Foundation updated those findings four years later in Maltreatment of Youth in U.S. Juvenile Corrections Facilities.

Over the last decade, developments in adolescent brain science and psychology have shown what common sense already suggested – that there are fundamental differences between the brains of teenagers and adults. Teen brains are not yet fully developed, making them more likely to engage in risky and impulsive behavior without weighing the consequences and succumbing to peer pressure.

Brain science research is appropriately influencing laws, policies and practices concerning youth who come into contact with law enforcement. Although teens should be held accountable for their actions, the goal of the juvenile justice system is for young offenders to return to their communities equipped with the skills they need to stay out of trouble and mature into productive adults.

To that end, in August 2015, the NJ Legislature and Governor Christie made significant reforms to our juvenile justice system. These smart reforms limited the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, revamped the state law that allowed juveniles to be tried as adults in criminal court, added protections to ensure the safety of juveniles transferred to adult facilities, and required the collection of much needed data. As a member of the Youth Justice New Jersey Coalition, ACNJ worked with sponsors of the legislation to ensure that the reforms helped New Jersey youth. This coalition is continuing its work to reform other aspects of the juvenile justice system.

The research clearly indicates that a system focused on rehabilitation and prevention yields far better results. New Jersey is a national model in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a national project led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is focused on reducing the number of youth confined in county detention facilities. JDAI has resulted in far fewer youth being incarcerated in longer-term Juvenile Justice Commission facilities without risk to public safety. For more information about the results of JDAI in New Jersey, read ACNJ’s Special Kids Count Report: Juvenile Justice. But extreme racial inequalities persist within the New Jersey juvenile justice system that must be addressed. A new report, Bring our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child, released by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, found that while black and white youth engage in similar offenses at about the same rates overall, New Jersey’s black youth are disproportionately incarcerated. While progress has been made, more work is needed.

For more information, please contact Mary Coogan at ACNJ, mcoogan@acnj.org