‘Bring Our Children Home’: Lawmakers, advocates call for closure of New Jersey girls’ prison

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice wants New Jersey to build a prison-to-school pipeline by closing the only girls’ youth prison and rebuilding the Bordentown School.

Wednesday, Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian released her report, “Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth,” which details the transformation of the Bordentown campus, as well as the modern-day, devastating impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on New Jersey’s youth of color.

According to the report, over the 2013-2014 school year, although Black girls made up only 16.2 percent of female students in New Jersey, they made up an estimated half of girls receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions, 30.2 percent of girls receiving expulsions with or without educational services, 37.6 percent of girls subjected to school-related arrests and 33.9 percent of girls referred to law enforcement.

“These racial disparities do not reflect greater culpability of Black children than their white peers, as Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates,” said McChristian. “Rather, these disparities exist, in part, because of our schools’ inability to see Black children as children. Our new youth justice system must view all children as children, and provide them with the grace, compassion and support they need.”

Advocates hope to reopen the Bordentown School, which was an elite public boarding school for Black youth known as the “Tuskegee of the North” built in 1903. The school was closed in 1955 as a result of public schools racially integrating.

“It is imperative that we rebuild our youth justice system to be transformative and prioritize rehabilitation,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. “The solutions to reform our criminal justice system must begin with affirming and preserving the humanity of our children. By closing down Hayes we are shutting one of the revolving doors of recidivism and recommitting ourselves to community uplift and support of our youth to help them thrive into adulthood.”