In an effort to help transform New Jersey’s juvenile justice system, Assembly Democrats Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Anthony Verrelli, Shanique Speight and Shavonda Sumter sponsor a bill that would establish a two-year “Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot Program” to implement restorative justice and transformative justice practices in our communities.
The pilot program established under the bill (A-4663) would aim to help youths avoid initial or repeated involvement with the juvenile justice system by employing restorative and transformative justice approaches. Both approaches emphasize interpersonal resolutions while seeking to implement systemic change.
For example, community members, victims and the youth who harmed them could be brought together to discuss the harmful act and ways to address the root cause or transform the conditions that led to the violence in the first place.
The pilot program would take place in Camden, Newark, Paterson and Trenton, with a focus on providing community-based enhanced reentry wraparound services and restorative justice hubs.
Reentry services would help youth reintegrate into their communities by providing life skills, social, mental health and/or substance use disorder support. Restorative justice hubs would provide a space within the community where local conflicts could be resolved through dialogue and families could reconnect and work to rebuild healthy relationships.
Upon the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee advancing the legislation on Wednesday, Assembly sponsors Reynolds-Jackson, Verrelli (both D-Mercer, Hunterdon), Speight (D-Essex) and Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) issued the following joint statement:
“This pilot program will help find new ways to transform our youth justice system during the current public health crisis and beyond. COVID-19’s impact on our communities and the fervent calls for racial equality demand changes in the way our state implements justice. Only once we acknowledge the inequalities and failures of our current system can we begin to find better solutions to the challenges we face.
“Rather than relying on incarceration and punitive measures, New Jersey needs a community-based plan of action that embraces restorative and transformative justice practices. We must place an emphasis on the social and emotional rehabilitation of young people, their families and their community members if we are to succeed in our goal.
“It’s time to look at how we can make real, lasting change in our communities and lift up our young men and women to break the cycle of incarceration and recidivism.”
The legislation heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.