Newark leaders are speaking out against the state’s plans to build a youth development center in the Brick City.

The existing youth prisons in the state will be closed and replaced by smaller youth development centers as a rehabilitation alternative to incarceration on regional sites. This will allow young people to be close to their families and communities. Prison would be retained as an alternative only for those at high risk.

Last year, 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. Officials said 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 most controversial facilities are the New Jersey Training School for Boys, known as Jamesburg, and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, known as Hayes. Last summer, The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, along with several other organizations, said the facilities should be replaced with community-based programs with wrap-around services.

“I support the closing of youth prisons,” Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka said. “Racial disparities in incarceration reflect the systemic racism facing New Jersey’s Black and Latino youth. A Black or Latino child in our state is much more likely to be detained or incarcerated than a white child, even though research shows that Black, Latino, and white kids commit most offenses at similar rates. A new youth prison in Newark is simply not happening.”

City Council members are also opposed to the new youth facility.

The United Black Agenda Group, composed of several organizations including the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Salvation and Social Justice and the NAACP, recently sent a letter to Murphy opposing plans to construct a new youth prison in Newark and urging him to stop plans to build any new youth prisons.

“We oppose New Jersey’s plan to build a new youth prison in Newark on an environmentally compromised site near West Side High School, KIPP Rise Academy, and Speedway Academies without any community input,”the groups stated. “New Jersey does not need any more youth prison beds. Our state has 11 non-secure youth residential community homes, and these facilities are at less than half capacity.”

In response to the concerns, Murphy’s office released a statement that he wants youth in the juvenile justice system to be close to their homes, families and social services.

“Governor Murphy believes deeply in transforming our juvenile justice system to prioritize treatment, rehabilitation, and positive reinforcement for young people,” said Deputy Press Secretary Alexandra Altman.