NJ Bill Would Mean 'Historic Transformation' For Youth Prisons

By Eric Kiefer, Patch

Protesters rally for youth prison reform in Newark, New Jersey on May 18, 2019. (Photo via NJISJ)

Protesters rally for youth prison reform in Newark, New Jersey on May 18, 2019. (Photo via NJISJ)

It's a bill that "puts the interest of kids above building prisons for them." And if the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act becomes law, it will usher in a historic transformation in the way the state treats its juvenile offenders, supporters say.

Earlier this week, a coalition of elected officials and community activists announced their support of A-5365/S-3701, a legislative effort that would make fundamental changes to the youth prison landscape in New Jersey. (Read the full bill here)

According to the Newark-based New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), the potential law would mandate the closure of the Juvenile Medium Security Facility in Bordentown.

It would also set official closure deadlines for the New Jersey Training School for Boys in Monroe, also known as Jamesburg, and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility in Bordentown, also known as Hayes. Former Gov. Chris Christie announced the planned closure of both facilities before he left office. Both remain open.

The bill would also:

  • Require New Jersey to develop a comprehensive closure transition plan encompassing provisions for both youth and workers

  • Require that New Jersey's eleven non-secure youth facilities be assessed for their ability to serve as appropriate placements for youth transitioning from a state youth prison, or for potential closure

  • Require that, if needed, New Jersey develop a plan, with community input, for renovating or repurposing existing properties into youth rehabilitation centers in the communities most impacted by youth incarceration to accommodate situations where an out-of-home placement is necessary for public safety or other reasons

  • Create a $100 million annual Youth Justice Transformation Fund to fund effective community-based youth programs

  • Require a racial and ethnic disparities study to research and eliminate racial disparities in the youth justice system

  • Place youth incarceration as the last adjudication disposition option, not the default

  • Increase transparency from the Youth Services Commission

The bill has gained strong support from a cross-section of elected officials and community-based nonprofits, including Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Assemblywoman Linda Carter, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, Senator Ronald Rice and Senator Sandra Cunningham.

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