Just nine female minors are behind bars in the Garden State. That's down from 25 in 2011.

As new findings suggest nationally, arrests and incarceration of young girls have been on a sharp decline in the Garden State as well. And it's not because there are just fewer troublemakers these days.

"What we see is that there is a trend to not arrest young people for non-violent offenses," said Retha Onitiri, director of community engagement at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. "That means more and more young people are staying in the community for offenses such as liquor law violations, simple assaults, disorderly conduct."

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention cites the lowest rate of girls arrested in three decades. Nationally, girls accounted for less than one-third of total youth arrests.

Justice reform advocates across the country and state, including NJISJ, are campaigning for an end to youth incarceration in favor of community-based alternatives.

Before leaving office, former Gov. Chris Christie announced the closure of two youth prisons, including the Hayes facility for girls. Both remain open, but Gov. Phil Murphy has established a task force aimed at getting the ball rolling on a youth justice system that's more focused on treatment and positive reinforcement, rather than punishment.

Onitiri said despite the state's progress in reducing youth incarceration, systemic issues remain. In New Jersey, a black child is 30 times more likely to be detained or committed than a while child, even though they commit most offenses at similar rates, she said.

"We really need to do something about that," she said. "New Jersey must double-down on its efforts to reduce the glaring racial disparities in policing and arrests, and closing down the Hayes girls prison immediately is a crucial step in that process."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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