Assembly Passes Bill to Create Two-Year ‘Restorative & Transformative Justice for Youths & Communities Pilot Program’

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 legislation passed the full Assembly Thursday, 53-21-1.

The pilot program established under the bill (A-4663/S-2924) 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 establish restorative justice hubs in four designated municipalities, providing a space within the communities where local conflicts could be resolved through dialogue and families could reconnect and work to rebuild healthy relationships.

Reentry wraparound services provided within these hubs would help youth reintegrate into their communities by providing preventative mentoring, mental health and employment services as well as life skills, housing, education and social support.

The measure appropriates funds for the purpose of enacting this pilot program in the municipalities of Camden, Newark, Paterson and Trenton.

Upon the bill’s passage, 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.”

Having previously passed the full Senate, the bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.