How New Jersey is changing its juvenile justice system
Gov. Chris Christie has announced plans to close two state prisons for juvenile offenders, and replace them with smaller, more modern facilities in more populated parts of the state.
One of the prisons being closed is the New Jersey Training School in Monroe Township, known as Jamesburg, which was build in the 1870s. The other is the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, referred to as Hayes.
The two new smaller, state-of-the art juvenile rehabilitation centers are planned for Ewing Township and Winslow Township.
“It’s a very positive step forward,” said Cel Zalkind, the CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
She said housing juveniles in large facilities that are in remote locations is “truly not the best way to treat juveniles and to focus on rehabilitation, which is the point of the juvenile justice system.”
She said the Jamesburg facility has never been an easy location for families to get to “and the idea of creating smaller facilities closer to families, we think is very positive." She said it's "more effective, cost effective, and certainly better alternative for youth.”
Zalkind noted for more than 10 years New Jersey has been changing the way youth are treated in detention, with an emphasis on placing them in smaller facilities, while at the same time allowing more young offenders to stay in their home communities while on probation. She said crime levels have dropped as a result.
Zalkind said this latest announcement is more proof that the new approach to dealing with juvenile offenders is working.
According to the Christie administration, the population at New Jersey’s juvenile detention centers has dropped 68 percent since 2004, when the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative began.
The administration said closing the Training School, built on 900 acres with 68 buildings, and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility will save the state about $20 million a year — funds that can then be applied to support “additional therapeutic and delinquency prevention services.”
Ryan Haygood, the CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said this latest announcement is a significant step in the right direction.
“New Jersey really is poised to serve as a national leader for transforming youth justice, and for creating an affirmative vision for what youth justice should look like,” he said. “What’s really at issue is creating a system that will better serve our young people who are most vulnerable, and who most desperately need support systems that rehabilitate young people.”
He said despite making important progress in youth justice, there is still a great deal of racial disparity that must be overcome.
“A young black person is 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than a young white person, even though research shows black and white kids commit most crimes at about the same rate," he said.
He said this latest announcement is part of an effort “to create rehabilitation centers that are smaller, that are cottage-like, that are close to home and familial supports, that are holistic and child-centered, and they’re really imbued with wrap-around services in settings that offer real rehabilitation for our youth," he said. “For too long the way New Jersey has done youth incarcerations is in a far away setting that is often too remote and too removed from the real supports that young people need. The reality is that familial support is essential to helping young people realize rehabilitation.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.
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