Gov. Phil Murphy signs legislation to transform youth justice

Cyril Josh Barker | 11/1/2018, 11:13 a.m.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order establishing the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice aimed at reviewing policies and evaluating New Jersey’s juvenile justice system.

“New Jersey has the shameful distinction of having the largest Black-white youth incarceration gap in the nation,” said Murphy. “We cannot and will not accept these inequities any longer. I’ve created this task force to ensure that New Jersey’s juvenile justice system reflects New Jersey values, including safety, dignity and fairness.”

The existing Juvenile Justice Commission has been conducting work to reduce its incarcerated youth population through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, designated as a national model for juvenile detention reform by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Officials say New Jersey has made an effort in modernizing its juvenile justice system but large racial disparities in youth incarceration rates persist and must be addressed. Out of the 222 youth who are incarcerated in the state’s three youth prisons, just 13 are white, despite research that shows Black and white youth have similar rates of offending.

The Task Force will be required to provide an initial report of its findings within six months. Issues the task force will focus on include evaluating the current Youth Services Commission and reviewing grants for juvenile parole.

“New Jersey has made progress over the past decade in reducing the number of incarcerated children, but extreme racial disparities in these incarceration rates remain,” said Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “The Task Force Governor Murphy has established today will explore solutions for narrowing the prison pipeline with a thorough examination of current rehabilitation practices.”

There is also a plan to implement a deadline for the closure of the New Jersey Training School for Boys and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, along with several other organizations, says the facilities should be replaced with community-based programs with wrap-around services.

“It is time to fundamentally shift the focus from punishing young people to investing in reforms where troubled youth get the services and treatment they need to stay out of trouble and mature into productive adults,” said Mary Coogan, vice president of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “We are failing our children and the community when 80 percent of incarcerated youth are arrested again once they are released.”