Black children were 24 times more likely to be incarcerated in N.J. correctional facilities than their white peers, despite committing crimes at roughly the same rate, according to a report by the nonprofit New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
The Newark-based group also found that Hispanic youth were five times more likely to go to juvenile detention centers than their white peers.
Another stark fact: as of early October, nearly three quarters of the 289 children committed to juvenile correctional facilities across New Jersey were black.
The report, entitled “Bringing Our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child?,” suggested that discriminatory policies and practices in the New Jersey juvenile justice system were to blame for the racial disparities in youth incarceration.
“The separation of young people from their communities occurs during a formative and pivotal time in their lives,” said NJISJ president and CEO Ryan Haygood. “The ties between children and their families are paramount to their maturation into adulthood.”
According to the report, black children were arrested at higher rates than white children, and law enforcement officers would “divert” the cases of black children to non-jail options, such as ordering the defendant to complete community service or pay restitution to the victim, less often.
“Put simply, this means that black kids are disproportionately arrested, are not getting diverted, and, as a result, are being incarcerated in lopsided numbers,” the report reads.
The authors also found that it cost N.J. taxpayers $196,133 per child to operate the state’s juvenile correctional facilities in 2014, arguing that community-based programs are cheaper and more effective.
“We are challenged with an antiquated system that at times fails to recognize the cost-saving measures that we can use to improve upon lives,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Democrat, Passaic County.
Rev. Charles Boyer, the pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Woodbury, said that residents across the state ought to be outraged at the report’s findings but also take responsibility for what they show.
“We need to be on fire against this,” said Boyer. “Not fire necessarily directed at lawmakers, or fire directed at the police, or fire directed at the Department of Corrections. But a fire directed at ourselves — as a state, as a society — that we could let this situation go on unseen for so long.”
The report recommended more frequently diverting low-level juvenile offenders to options other than incarceration, such as community service, as well as housing children in community-based settings as opposed to secure jail facilities.