Analysis shows children & youth treated unfairly in New Jersey's Adult Prison System

Analysis shows children & youth treated unfairly in New Jersey's Adult Prison System

Youth Suffer Long Term Solitary Confinement, Gross Racial & Ethnic Disparities, Justice by Geography, and Lack of Due Process 

Elizabeth, New Jersey – A local study by the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus (NJPC) of 472 children and youth, ages 14 to 17, who were waived, sentenced and incarcerated in New Jersey’s adult prison system between 2007 – 2015, showed:

  • Gross racial and ethnic disparities: approximately 90% are youth of color; 72% are African American males.

 

  • Justice by geography: Rates of incarceration in the adult prison system vary significantly across counties in New Jersey, suggesting that justice depends on where one lives, not on the facts of a given case.

 

  • Youth are regularly deprived of due process: Approximately 30% of the 472 youth waived to adult court during the study period spent more than 2 years incarcerated, between their arrest date and their sentencing date, violating their right to a speedy trial.

 

  • Youth are regularly put in solitary confinement – especially youth with mental health disorders: Although solitary confinement is known to be psychologically damaging, especially to children, 53% of these youth spent a total of approximately 15,359 days (42 years) in solitary confinement between 2010 and 2015; 5 percent spend over a year there, and about 4 percent spent 2 years or more in solitary. Nearly 70 percent of those placed in solitary had a mental health disorder, with nearly 37% having two or more diagnoses.

 

  • Youth suffer abuse while in adult prison: once incarcerated in an adult prison, one in four youth surveyed reported physical abuse; 5% reported sexual abuse. 

 

These disturbing statistics appear in NJPC’s new data brief, entitled." The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey’s Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative.” The brief is comprised of comprehensive state data which NJPC gathered from the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJ DOC) on 472 children incarcerated in the adult prison system. The data largely covers the period 2007 – 2015, though some information gathered dates back to 2003. In addition to the data retrieved from the NJ Department of Corrections, NJPC has compiled additional data from a subset of the same population (120 youth) by means of a survey provided to incarcerated youth and their parents, caregivers and family members.

“These data show how broken our system is,” said Kathy Wright, executive director of the NJPC, a parent of a justice-involved youth, and a fellow in the National Juvenile Justice Network’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute. “We should not be sending youth to the adult system, where their rights are violated, they are unsafe, and their mental health needs go unmet. New Jersey’s juvenile justice system was created because as a society, we realized our children, due to their age, can be rehabilitated, and they should be given the opportunity to do so.” 

Results from the data brief highlight a myriad of injustices that continue to plague New Jersey’s justice system. Most blatant are the gross racial and ethnic disparities that exist in justice system. Youth of color are disproportionately represented among those waived to the adult prison system in New Jersey, making up approximately 90% of youth included in NJPC’s data set; 72% are African American males, exceeding all other ethnic groups and genders. Furthermore, rates of youth incarceration in the adult prison system vary significantly across counties in New Jersey, suggesting that justice depends on where one lives, not on the facts of a given case. For example, in Camden County, 14 to 17 year olds make up 5.8% of the population of children between the ages of 0-17, but make up 15.3% of our data set between 2007 and 2015. In comparison, in Hunterdon County, where youth 14 to 17 make up 6.3% of the population of children between the ages of 0-17, exactly 0% were incarcerated in the adult system between 2007 and 2015. 

Once incarcerated, children and youth are frequently subject to long-term solitary confinement, even though solitary confinement is known to be psychologically damaging, especially to children. Worse, one in four youth surveyed reported physical abuse, and 5% reported sexual abuse. Finally, and most disturbingly, the needs of New Jersey youth are not being met in their communities. Almost three out of four (71%) of youth waived to the adult system were known to at least two child-serving agencies prior to their involvement in adult court, with the majority having been involved in the mental health system. Of those youth, more than two out of three children have two or more mental health diagnoses. 

According to Wright, “ Given the large number of New Jersey youth involved in multiple child-serving systems prior to their incarceration in the adult system, this data brief serves as a call to action for state officials, child-serving systems, community-based organizations, legislators, and other interested stakeholders throughout the state of New Jersey to revisit the way in which we view and provide services to all children and youth, regardless of their race, ethnicity or geographical location, and the way in which services are provided to them and their families. Somehow, we have lost our way. The institution of racism has reared its ugly head and we are funneling kids of color who need our help into the juvenile justice system where, unlike the schoolhouse, there is no eject button, and they cannot say no.”

The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey’s Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative was recently posted on the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ) on their homepage, the National Black Disability Coalition, National Juvenile Justice Network, and the Campaign for Youth Justice. The data brief is also available for download on the New Jersey Parents Caucus website at www.newjerseyparentscaucus.org

About the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus: The NJ Youth Justice Initiative, a program of the New Jersey Parents Caucus, is tracking and corresponding with currently incarcerated youth and their parents and family members. The New Jersey Parents’ Caucus, Inc. is a coalition of parents, caregivers, family members and youth whose mission is to ensure that every family who has children with special emotional and behavioral needs is given an opportunity to play a strong and active role in the conceptualization, development and delivery of effective and timely services for their children. 

It is the position of the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus, Inc. (NJPC) and its membership that the state’s current policies which promote the trying, sentencing and incarceration of children and youth between the ages of 14 and 17 in adult system are unjust and require further review. No youth should face an increased likelihood of adult waiver for a similar crime in a similar circumstance because of race, ethnicity, geography or socio-economic status. As well, for those children who are waived to the adult system, safety, rehabilitative services, treatment, and appropriate educational services and support, must be provided, particularly for those children with a history of mental health needs and/or special education involvement.