Major Momentum on Juvenile Justice

January 26, 2016

InStoryGraphics_JuvenileJusticeThis morning, President Obama announced that he would direct the Justice Department to ban the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal facilities and as a response to low-level infractions. In a Washington Post op-ed announcing the order, the president pointed to examples in Colorado and New Mexico where solitary confinement has been reduced and the result has been fewer assaults on prison staff and more promising participation in rehabilitation programs.

Here in New Jersey, we know that solitary confinement is among the most damaging and counter-productive methods of incarceration, especially among juveniles. It’s why we joined the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition, which ultimately helped outlaw its punitive use in the state.

But we know this legislative victory is the beginning, not the end. And it’s why President Obama’s executive order comes at an opportune time.

Looking Ahead

At the Community Foundation of New Jersey, we are committed to building on the success of our involvement with this issue (see below) and achieving real, lasting reform of the state’s juvenile justice system.  Our Leadership Committee has once again approved a grant to our partners at the Post-Disposition Advocacy Project at Rutgers Law School-Newark to support the work of part-time attorneys who work with incarcerated youth who face many unmet challenges while being rehabilitated.

“Over the last four months, the Project has been inundated with new clients suffering sometimes unthinkable deprivations of their rights while in custody,” said Laura Cohen, the Project’s Director and Clinical Professor of Law and Justice. “Funding from the Community Foundation has allowed us to not only provide legal representation to young people who are incarcerated in New Jersey’s long-term juvenile facilities, but also advocate for meaningful, rational, and sustainable institutional reform of New Jersey’s juvenile justice system.”

Cohen explains that the “macro” and “micro” aspects of the Project’s work are inextricably linked, as its broad-based policy reform agenda is informed, shaped, and afforded legitimacy by its representation of individual clients.

Thanks to the Project’s hard work, which our fundholders have enabled through their own contributions, the momentum for reform is building and fewer jurisdictions across the US permit solitary confinement for minors. To do your part and help eliminate solitary confinement for minors in New Jersey once and for all, click the links below to support our work and keep the pressure on.

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Progress to Date

Since the Community Foundation’s Leadership Committee became involved in the issue of juvenile justice reform in 2014 – making it a Changemaker Project – we’ve made a lot of important progress.

  1. DonorCentral_JuvenileJusticeWe empowered our fundholders to join us in this important work and support effective interventions designed to transform the way juveniles are incarcerated in New Jersey.
  2. We pooled fundholders’ dollars and our own and made a grant to the Post-Disposition Advocacy Project at Rutgers Law School-Newark that allowed them to bring on a part-time attorney to work with incarcerated youth.
  3. Through the work of this attorney – and another, supported by a generous grant from our partners at the Fund for New Jersey – we began to right some wrongs, from a young woman denied medical attention who received necessary root canals to a young man denied learning opportunities who was able to enroll in GED courses.
  4. We simultaneously built a case for reform in New Jersey, with the above examples and others showing the need to rethink how we incarcerate young people.
  5. And we achieved a major legislative victory with the passage and signing into law of S2003 that, among other things, bans the punitive use of solitary confinement for minors.

But what we learned through this process, is that the legislative victory is a beginning, not an end. Young people continue to sit in solitary confinement in New Jersey, with the same psychological and physical effects, just not for punitive reasons.