Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Juvenile Justice Reform: A Win for the Kids and Taxpayers

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Juvenile Justice Reform: A Win for the Kids and Taxpayers

Article excerpt

So rarely does doing the right thing also save money. Such a rare opportunity exists in what would be, if approved, the most significant reform in the history of New Jersey's juvenile justice system.

Our state's youth corrections system is seriously outdated and flawed in certain respects. The New Jersey Training School, the Juvenile Justice Commission's largest youth prison, is one of the oldest, most antiquated youth corrections facilities in the nation.

Built in 1867 to house thousands of young people, and comprising 68 buildings sprawled over 900 acres, the Training School is no longer effective or sustainable. Thanks to New Jersey's success in reducing youth incarceration, the Training School presently averages just 144 residents. Incarcerating this small number of youth on an aging and largely empty campus is inefficient, impractical and wildly expensive.

With an annual budget appropriation of $44.2 million, the cost to house a single resident at the Training School is staggering – more than $300,000 per resident per year. That's more than four years at Harvard, including room and board, with enough cash left over to purchase a luxury car as a graduation gift.

Worse is that the facility is in a remote location, with little, if any, access to public transportation – making family visits extremely difficult and severely limiting the critical role families can play in the care and rehabilitation of their loved ones.

Modern research and experience in the field of juvenile justice informs us that reliance on large, congregate care institutions far from home produces poor public safety outcomes. While the overriding mission of the juvenile justice system in our country is to rehabilitate youths, these prison-like environments actually increase the likelihood of reoffending. Youths placed in these institutions also fare worse in terms of other important life outcomes, including employment, family stability and interpersonal relationships. And that is why facilities around the country like Jamesburg are being abandoned, in favor of a better approach.

The cornerstone of our plan is to shutter this Civil War era relic of a facility and reduce the overall secure care capacity by replacing it with three much smaller (approximately 48 beds each), state-of-the art regional facilities. …

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