Assembly Panel Begins Discussion on Bill Creating a Two-Year “Restorative Justice in Communities” Pilot Program

Reynolds-Jackson Sponsors Legislation to Transform New Jersey Justice Practices; Supporters Testify During Committee Hearing                   

An Assembly panel Wednesday held a discussion on legislation that would establish a two-year “Restorative Justice in Communities Pilot Program” to implement restorative justice and transformative justice practices in our communities.

The sponsor of the bill (A-4663), Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson said the intention of the legislation will work to find new ways the Juvenile Justice Commission and directly impacted communities can transform New Jersey’s youth justice system during the current public health crisis and beyond.

“The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fervent call for racial equality demands a fresh and immediate need to transform New Jersey’s youth justice system. As an alternative to an overreliance on incarceration, New Jersey needs a community-based plan of action that embraces restorative and transformative justice practices; one which emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional rehabilitation for youth, their families, and their communities,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon) on the bill. “It’s time to look at how we make lasting, transformative change in our communities, and begin to lift our young men and women instead of continuing to perpetuate the cycle of incarceration and recidivism.”

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday received testimony from supporters of the bill.

“New Jersey’s youth justice system is broken. The unacceptably high rate of recidivism demonstrates the utter failure of this system, which is infected with structural racism and raises a punitive hand to our youth instead of a healing and supportive touch which they need now more than ever,” said Retha Onitiri, Director of Community Engagement for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We know that models of restorative and transformative justice work, and can help kids learn, grow and even thrive from their experiences rather than be locked up only to have their problems worsen. It’s time for New Jersey to finally acknowledge that there are No Throwaway Kids, and passing this pilot program bill is a great way to start.”

“It is high time for New Jersey to radically transform its racist youth justice system. And, let’s be clear, this is a racist system, with our state having the worst Black to white youth incarceration disparity rate in the nation,” said Richard Smith, President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “And it is disproportionately Black kids who are subject to COVID-19’s rampant spread in our state’s youth prisons. As we see these young people released from these facilities in response to the public health crisis, it is imperative that we have well-funded resources and services, based on restorative and transformative justice practices, to ensure they are kept home in their communities – and do not return to broken youth prisons. This legislation will do just that and we are proud to support it.”

“The prophet Isaiah speaks of Israel’s restoration and proclaims that once the righteous kingdom is realized, all people will experience peace and justice. This is what we are fighting for in New Jersey, the nation, and the world. Peace and justice cannot be achieved without transforming the very systems that oppress the most vulnerable populations,” said Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Founding Director, Salvation and Social Justice. “We will not tolerate the fact that Black youth are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth committing offenses at similar rates. This Youth Justice Pilot Program is a critical step in addressing deeply embedded criminal justice, social, educational and healthcare inequities that rob Black children and teens of not only their youth, but also their humanity. These proposed community-based programs will provide much-needed reentry services. Furthermore, a critical piece of this legislation is its proactive approach of implementing restorative and transformative justice care.”

Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon), Shanique Speight and Shavonda Sumter are also sponsors of the legislation. Senators Shirley Turner and Nellie Pou sponsor identical legislation in the Senate.  The bill will continued to be reviewed by the Assembly Speaker and considered for re-posting for a vote by the committee.