N.J. group calls for reopening former prep school for African-Americans

The Juvenile Medium Security Facility in Bordentown, New Jersey.

The Juvenile Medium Security Facility in Bordentown, New Jersey. (Courtesy of Ryan Haygood/NJISJ)

A New Jersey advocacy group is calling on state officials to open a modern-day version of the shuttered Bordentown School, a prestigious boarding school for African-American children that closed in 1947.

Today, the site of the former academy in South Jersey is occupied by the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility — also known as Hayes — the state’s only youth prison for girls.

That facility “is literally the school-to-prison pipeline realized,” said Ryan Haygood, president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the Newark-based group behind the campaign to reopen the school.

The organization suggested that reopening the Bordentown School would boost efforts to reshape the juvenile justice system in New Jersey, which is already underway thanks in part to a plan by former Gov. Chris Christie.

Before he left office, the Republican floated a proposal to close Hayes and the New Jersey Training School, a youth prison for boys. That effort is now in the hands of Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat.

An ISJ report on the Bordentown School, once called the “Tuskegee of the North,” noted that New Jersey now has the worst racial disparities among incarcerated youth in the U.S.

“Our proposal for a modern Bordentown School — with a focus on promoting racial understanding, a celebration of diversity, and the empowerment of students of color — can begin to counter the lasting legacy of excluding students of color,” said ISJ associate counsel Andrea McChristian, who wrote the report.

McChristian hopes the reimagined Bordentown School would recruit students from parts of the state — including Camden and Essex counties — that send large numbers of minorities to youth prisons.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, a Democrat who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties, said she would likely support legislation to reopen the school.

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