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Verrelli, Mejia & Speight Bill to Promote Emotional, Social Rehabilitation of Juvenile Offenders Using Arts Education Clears Assembly Panel

To reduce recidivism for at-risk youth, the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee advanced legislation from Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli, Pedro Mejia and Shanique Speight on Thursday. The measure would establish an arts education pilot program for juvenile offenders in New Jersey.

Every year approximately 2.1 million youth are arrested in the United States, which accounts for 16 percent of all violent crime and 26 percent of all property crime arrests.

With evidence to suggest that artistic processes facilitate safer and more acceptable expressions of anger, prison art programs have shown tremendous potential to reduce disciplinary action against detained youth and to promote successful reentry.

“Art can be an incredibly useful tool in allowing young people to express themselves creatively,” said Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Not only is art education an integral factor in the mental, social and emotional development of a child, but also in the educational curriculum necessary to develop our state’s future leaders.”

Under the bill (A-793), the Juvenile Justice Commission in consultation with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts would oversee the development, operation, administration and evaluation of the pilot program.

“There are many troubled young people who don’t know how to properly express their struggles,” said Mejia (D-Bergen, Hudson). “By promoting art education for our state’s most at-risk youth, we can help them fulfill the potential they undoubtedly have to make New Jersey an even greater state than it already is.”

“It is our responsibility to ensure that all kids in New Jersey have an opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits art provides for people, from both an intellectual and social perspective,” said Speight (D-Essex). “Art allows our youth to express themselves in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and every child in New Jersey deserves that opportunity.”

Specifically, the pilot program would involve the development of three model arts education programs to deliver innovative arts-based programming for juvenile offenders in detention and correction facilities over a five-year period. The programs, developed through organizational partnerships across governmental and private agencies, would seek to improve critical thinking skills, self-esteem and cross-cultural understanding among other goals.

During the first four years of the pilot program, each model program would undergo an annual evaluation. In the program’s final year, an evaluation and recommendation on the pilot program’s continuation and expansion would be submitted to the Governor and Legislature.

The bill now heads to the Speaker for further consideration.