A poll conducted for a coalition of child advocates finds that 85 percent of New Jersey residents believe the youth justice system should focus more on prevention and rehabilitation rather than incarceration and punishment.
Young people who commit crimes should be should be held accountable, said Mary Coogan with Advocates for Children of New Jersey. But community-based counseling and treatment are more effective than putting them in prison, she said.
“It allows youth to remain in school, remain with their family, continue to interact with peers, and have the intensive services that, hopefully, are trauma-informed and meet their needs,” Coogan said. “So that, rather than removing them from society, we’re teaching them to behave appropriately.”
Retha Onitiri with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice said about 75 percent of adolescents released from a youth prison are arrested again within three years.
“If you shift the funds to community-based programs, we believe the children will be close to home, they will be receiving the services that they need, and that will reduce the level of recidivism,” she said.
While it costs about $537 a day to hold a youth in a juvenile correctional facility in the state, the daily cost for community-based programs is $75, Onitiri said.