Turning a state youth prison back into an educational institution could serve as a launching point for a much-needed transformation of youth incarceration in New Jersey, according to a just-released report.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice calls for the immediate closure of the state's only youth prison for girls — the Juvenile Secure Care and Intake Facility, known as Hayes — and the reintroduction of the Bordentown School, a boarding school which once stood where Hayes currently operates.

Former Gov. Chris Christie in January announced plans to close both Hayes and the youth prison for boys across the street, and replace them with smaller youth rehab centers in other areas of the state.

Shutting the doors, the report states, would serve as acknowledgement of New Jersey's failed "school-to-prison" system of youth incarceration that's been devastating to young people for decades — particularly young people of color and their families.

"Youth incarceration is financially wasteful," said report author Andrea McChristian on a call with reporters. "In addition, our system of youth incarceration perpetuates racial disparities."

A black child in New Jersey, the report notes, is at least 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white child, even though children of both races commit most offenses at about the same rate.

The state spends $250,000 each year per child to "maintain this broken system of incarceration," the Institute says.

"When I think, $250,000 — my goodness," said state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), who also participated in the teleconference. "What could we do with that money if it were focused in a more positive way?"

The report points to a noticeable uptick over the past few decades in the "use of suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement referrals, and school-based arrests."

"These disciplinary practices not only deprive our youth of valuable classroom time and positive peer relationships, they also push them into the youth justice system," the report reads. "A young person is more likely to be arrested on a day he or she is suspended from school, and suspensions are also associated with higher dropout rates and an increased risk of contact with the youth justice system."

Through its 150 Years is Enough campaign, the Institute has pushed to transform the state's youth incarceration system into a community-based system of care.

The Bordentown School, which closed in 1955, used education to prevent black children from becoming involved in the youth justice system, the report states.

"Our vision is to turn the Bordentown School into a modern version of what it once was — a public boarding school open to all students in New Jersey, with a primary goal of developing a diverse group of New Jersey leaders," McChristian said.

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

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