NJISJ Rallies Against Proposed Youth Prisons

May 21, 2019

Protestors rally near the site of what was the proposed site of a youth prison in Newark.
Credit Alexandra Hill / News

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Newark this past weekend to rally against the Murphy administartions tentative plan to close two existing youth prisons in the state and open smaller "youth development centers" in northern, central and southern New Jersey. The rally and march , organized by the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice, comes a month after local officials and activists blasted an alleged plan that would've landed one of them in Newark, a city that already has several prisons within its borders.

Its my kids, it’s the people I love its who I work for everyday.

Stacy Alvarez is an elementary school teacher at  Kipp Thrive academy in Newark, and a lifelong Newark resident.

“I think about the boys that I’ve taught the girls that I’ve taught and how when we look at them we cant decide before they’re even able to make decisions for themselves, about where they’re going to end up, and if we put a prison here, then its guaranteed that we’re making a decision about who they are.”

Alvarez delivered an electrifying speech in which she listed a myriad of ways the state could spend the 160 million dollars it would cost to build three new youth prisons across New Jersey.  Hundreds attended the rally before taking to the streets to lock arms around what was the proposed site for a new youth prison. The former Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery in Newark’s West Ward. 18-year-old Amina Ferguson is a lifelong Newark resident and a member of Youth For Justice New Jersey.

“That’s why they’re getting locked up, there’s nothing out here, look at the schools we need that money to come to us not to a prison. We need better schools, we need better streets, better everything, we don’t need a prison in front of houses so young people can look out they’re window and see other young people incarcerated. 

Under former Gov. Chris Christie, two outdated youth prisons - Jamesburg and Hayes - were slated to shut down. The Christie administration at the time proposed to build three new regional youth facilities in northern central and southern New Jersey. The Murphy administration then said they are moving towards a decentralized, community-based model. Ryan Haygood, President and CEO of the institute, says residents were frustrated since the plan was hatched “under the cover of darkness.” Haygood says while the institute wants Gov. Phil Murphy to close Jamesburg and Hayes, It  doesn’t want to see any new youth jails or rehabilitation centers constructed at all.

“You could move every incarcerated kid today in each of New Jersey’s three youth prisons into  abed at one of the eleven residential facilities, then you could spend the majority of the $160 million that the murphy administration is planning on spending to construct new youth prisons, into programming around prevention and diversion and rehabilitation

Haygood says that while the original proposal may have been rescinded they have yet to hear from Governor Murphy himself.

“The tragedy here is New Jersey really is, I think, at a fundamental place where we can really transform youth justice entirely where New Jersey can serve as a national model for youth justice reform, but you can not realize that transformation if you begin with a construction project where you largely close bigger prisons in favor of smaller prisons.”

A. Dorian Murray-Thomas is a newly elected Newark school board membe. Murray says the new fight is in ensuring the hundreds of millions of dollars that was set aside for the prison is back into the community.

“We need to invest in prevention, we need to invest in rehabilitation, and we need to invest in alternatives to punitive measures for our young people. At the end of the day these are kids, and they need supports to be able to become helpful and healthy adults.”