Now the real work begins.
On Monday, Governor Christie announced that two of New Jersey’s youth prisons, the New Jersey Training School, commonly known as “Jamesburg” and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (“Hayes”), will be closing and replaced by two “much smaller state of the art juvenile rehabilitation centers.”
Read news story from NJ 101.5
This is a positive step forward. We know there are better approaches to treating and rehabilitating youth offenders, other than housing them in large, prison-like facilities in remote locations, far away from family members. With only 144 youth incarcerated at the present time, our state’s need for secure facilities is minimal. The current plan is for facilities that house between 40 and 73 residents.
As stated Christie’s news release, “Jamesburg is one of the oldest, most antiquated youth prisons in the nation and the time has come to close its gates for the last time. We have an obligation to serve our youth and protect our communities, but now we will do so using a model that maximizes opportunities for personal rehabilitation and growth of developing young people.”
Kudos to The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which has led the charge for the closure of Jamesburg to accomplish this significant reform effort. Read their statement
Now the real work begins. It is critical that any facilities built to replace Jamesburg and Hayes reflect current research in that they are small, therapeutic and accessible to the families of the youth housed in the facilities.
Any savings realized as a result of the closures should be put toward community-based services for juvenile offenders and preventive services for youth. The ultimate goal should be to continue to reduce the number of youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system in the first place, by intervening with services at the front end of the system.
New Jersey is a national leader in a rapidly advancing juvenile justice reform movement. The state has successfully reduced its detention populations by 60 percent over the last 14 years, while safely addressing their needs in their communities.
Leaders from other states have looked to New Jersey as a model in the juvenile justice system. This success was achieved through county-based teams working in the statewide Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which began in 2004 and supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. To learn more, read ACNJ’s Special Kids Count Report: Juvenile Justice.
As a result of JDAI, many of our state’s county detention centers have closed and consolidated with neighboring detention centers, resulting in millions of dollars in savings New Jersey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) 2015 Annual Data Report, NJ Juvenile Justice Commission).
The research and data confirms that youth prisons should be closed. Using community-based alternatives will create more positive opportunities for juvenile offenders in New Jersey, leading to better outcomes and possible savings in taxpayer dollars. ACNJ commends Governor Christie for taking this important step forward for our youth.
For more information, please contact Mary Coogan at ACNJ, firstname.lastname@example.org.