Across New Jersey, a strong consensus has emerged that it is time to embrace a fundamentally different approach to youth who violate the law. There is clear evidence that a system focused on rehabilitation and prevention — not incarceration — yields better results for the youth and public safety. A more humane, child-centered, and effective approach would divert youth from the juvenile justice system; decrease recidivism rates; and ensure that those currently in the system have an opportunity to reunite with their families, re-enter their communities, and develop into productive adults.
Youth Justice New Jersey is a large and growing consortium of research, advocacy, academic, direct services. and grassroots organizations and representatives committed to improving outcomes for youth involved in the justice system. By employing a multi-pronged approach that involves public education, litigation and advocacy measures, the coalition aims to:
- Sharply reduce the number youth involved in the juvenile justice and adult corrections systems and to divert more youth into rehabilitative, community based alternatives to incarceration that incorporate trauma informed care.
- Improve the conditions of confinement for those youth who are incarcerated ensuring that they live in a safe environment and have meaningful access to educational and rehabilitative programming and physical and mental health services.
- End school policies and practices that push youth out of classrooms and into the justice system.
- Eliminate disparate treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice and adult corrections systems.
The primary goal of the coalition is to implement a more effective juvenile justice system in New Jersey. Youth Justice New Jersey has already launched a number of important efforts to address the over-incarceration of youth that have garnered significant national attention. Between 1997 and 2010, the total population of confined youth in juvenile residential facilities was cut by over half, due in large part to the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a program focused on decreasing the number of youth detained before trial. More information on JDAI and New Jersey can be found here.
Most recently, the coalition’s advocacy efforts led to the recent historic passage of S2003, legislation aimed at providing age-appropriate treatment and access to rehabilitation for juveniles who encounter the criminal justice system. The new law, signed by Governor Christie in 2015, : (1) Raises the minimum age at which a child may be prosecuted as an adult from 14 to 15, narrows the list of offenses that can lead to prosecution as an adult, and amends the standard governing such decisions to reflect the continuing maturation of young people through their mid-twenties; (2) Requires due process, including representation by counsel, before a young person who is confined in a juvenile facility can be transferred to an adult prison; and (3) Eliminates the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure in juvenile facilities and detention centers, and places time limits on the use of solitary confinement for reasons other than punishment.
The Coalition now serves as the New Jersey member of the National Juvenile Justice Network, a prestigious national organization of leading juvenile justice reform advocates. As a result of Youth Justice New Jersey’s cutting edge work, Youth First, a national advocacy organization that seeks to end youth incarceration, has selected New Jersey as one of a handful of states in which it will provide support and guidance as local activists seek to transform our state’s juvenile justice system.
Youth Justice New Jersey coalition members include:
Advocates for Children of NJ
American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
American Friends Service Committee
Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties
Community Education Centers
Disability Rights New Jersey
Education Law Center
Greater Newark Youth Violence Consortium
Independence: A Family of Services, Inc.
Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies
Justice for Families
Legal Educational Advocacy and Reentry Program (LEARN)
Legal Services of New Jersey
Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest at Lowenstein Sandler
New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
New Jersey Parents’ Caucus
New Jersey Policy Perspective
Reentry Coalition of New Jersey
Rutgers School of Law-Camden: Children’s Justice Clinic
Rutgers School of Law-Newark: Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic
St. James Somerset A.M.E. Church
Statewide Parent Advocacy Network
Youth Advocates Program – New Jersey
Equal Justice USA
Opportunity Youth Network
Youth First Initiative
Youth Justice New Jersey is made possible by the generosity of Community Foundation of New Jersey, the Fund for New Jersey, and the Public Welfare Foundation. We are grateful for their commitment to the children of New Jersey.