N.J. governor renews vows to close detention center where 50 men say they were sexually abused as boys

U.S. Justice Department reports alleged high rates of sexual abuse at the facility, and the state determined the facility should close in 2018.

The gate outside the New Jersey Training School

The gate outside the New Jersey Training School carries a bygone name for the facility, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Monroe Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Mike Catalini, File)

New Jersey’s governor recommitted on Thursday to closing down the state’s largest youth detention center, and the state attorney general vowed a prompt investigation after 50 men alleged they were sexually abused there while they were held as boys.

Attorney General Matt Platkin said hours after the lawsuit was filed Wednesday that the allegations would be “swiftly and thoroughly” investigated. The suit contends that from the 1970s to the 2010s that officers, counselors and other staff sexually assaulted boys under their authority at the New Jersey Training School in Monroe Township.

In a statement Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy’s spokesperson Tyler Jones, said the Democratic governor is “committed to the responsible closing” of the school, first announced nearly six years ago. The challenge is that the closure would require creating three additional facilities, one each in northern, central and southern New Jersey, and so far only two have been set up, the statement said.

Among the lawsuit’s allegations are that staff conducted illicit strip searches, carried out violent rapes, offered bribes to keep the victims silent and threatened punishment if the crimes were reported. Fifty men who were held at the facility as boys have joined the lawsuit.

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“Protecting the youth in the care of the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) is a matter of the highest priority for our administration. We have zero tolerance for abuse of any kind in JJC facilities or in JJC-sponsored programs,” Platkin said. His statement also said he wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but noted that the alleged conduct happened before Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.

Moshe Maimon, an attorney at Levy Kongisberg representing the plaintiffs, applauded the commitment to close the facility.

“But that is not enough,” he said in an email. “The State — under his administration — should take responsibility for the decades of sexual abuse of children entrusted to its care and custody.”

The facility has long been considered troubled. U.S. Justice Department reports alleged high rates of sexual abuse at the facility, and the state determined the facility should close in 2018. But efforts to set up replacements have stalled.

Platkin said that all staff, volunteers and interns at the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission-run facilities must pass background checks including an examination of any child abuse records. He added that the commission has implemented Prison Rape Elimination Act protocols that remain in effect. The act requires correctional facilities to have safeguards to protect people housed in prisons from being sexually attacked or abused.

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Despite its name, the facility is not only a school but a campus with seven cottages and a vocational building run by the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission. It currently houses about 200 people, according to the state, and dates to 1867.

Most of the residents are 16-18 years old, though it houses people committed by courts from ages 12-23, according to the state.

The suit is possible in part because New Jersey now allows more adults to pursue childhood sex abuse claims. A similar law in New Hampshire enabled more than 1,000 men and women to raise allegations of abuse at a state detention center there.

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