Art Exhibit Featuring Justice-Involved Youth Artists Debuts at Trenton State House

Art Exhibit Featuring Justice-Involved Youth Artists Debuts at Trenton State House


WHERE: Reception: Senate Legislative Committee Room 6 in State House Annex, Trenton, NJ

Art Exhibition: Goldfinch Square in State House Annex, Trenton, NJ

WHEN: February 20 from 12 to 1:30 PM (reception with speakers begins at noon)

RSVP: Communications Director Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg at


On February 20 from 12 to 1:30 PM Senator Ronald L. Rice, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and coLAB Arts are hosting an exhibition of artwork created by New Jersey youth, several of whom have been involved in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.


“Our juvenile justice system is scarred by extreme racial disparities and recidivism,” said Senator Rice. “This exhibition shares the artwork of those who have been incarcerated, enabling all of us to see their talents, stories, and limitless possibilities. We spend about $250,000 to lock up one child for one year. Imagine the opportunities that could be created in a child’s life for $250,000.”


This event is part of the Institute’s 150 Years is Enough campaign, which seeks to transform the youth justice system by closing youth prisons and investing in a community-based system of care.


“For more than 150 years, New Jersey has invested in a failed system of youth incarceration that is a moral stain on our state,” said Ryan Haygood, Institute President and CEO. “This art exhibit is part of our 150 Years is Enough campaign to address the root causes of New Jersey’s staggering racial disparities, create a community-based system of care, and develop more rehabilitative out-of-home settings for our young people.”


New Jersey has the worst racial disparities among its incarcerated Black and white youth in the nation.  A Black child in New Jersey is, incredibly, more than 30 times more likely to be detained or committed to a youth facility than a white child. This striking racial disparity persists even though Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates.


“Our primary goal is to ensure that all of our state’s youth—regardless of the color of their skin— receive the rehabilitation they need to mature and grow into responsible adults,” continued Haygood. “Doing so would position New Jersey to be a national leader in transformative youth justice. This is where we should be making our investment.”


The youth artists, several of whom have been incarcerated in New Jersey youth prisons, worked with coLAB Arts, an arts organization based in New Brunswick, over the course of several weeks to create the pieces featured in the exhibit.


“This installation is the culmination of several months of planning and engagement between students in the Youth Advocate Program as well as New Jersey Institute of Social Justice and coLAB Arts,” said Dan Swern, Co-founder and Producing Director of coLAB Arts. “Participants were given a supportive space and creative outlet to explore the theme of home and choices and consequences. Some of these stories are simple expressions of the normalcy of everyday teenage experiences – while others are reflections of the juvenile and criminal justice systems in New Jersey.”


On January 8, 2018, in response to the 150 Years is Enough campaign, former Governor Chris Christie announced his plan to close two of the state’s youth prisons—the New Jersey Training School for Boys (“Jamesburg”), the largest youth prison for boys, and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (“Hayes”), the state’s girls’ youth prison—and to build two youth rehabilitation centers based on national best practices.


About six months earlier, on June 28, 2017, Jamesburg’s 150th anniversary, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and over 50 partner organizations launched “150 Years is Enough,” a campaign to close Jamesburg and Hayes and invest in the creation of a community-based system of care.


“Not only is New Jersey’s system of youth incarceration racially discriminatory but it fails to reduce recidivism,” said Onitiri. “In fact, research has shown that children who are incarcerated are more likely to live in poverty and be imprisoned as adults.”


“We are seeing a national trend in which states are rejecting youth prisons in favor of community based systems of care,” added Liz Ryan, Youth First CEO and President. “Whether it is New Jersey or Wisconsin or Virginia, the conclusion is the same: youth prisons don’t work to rehabilitate young people or to keep our communities safe.”


The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice has released its vision for youth justice in New Jersey, which you can find here. The Institute’s vision calls for:


  • Ensuring that the default for every child involved in the youth justice system is to stay at home and receive community-based wrap-around services and treatment. Studies have shown that, rather than our disastrous youth incarceration system, such programs can provide real and transformative rehabilitation for our youth.
  • In the case that an out-of-home placement may be necessary for public safety reasons, these facilities should not be prisons. These publicly-run facilities should be small, cottage-like, holistic, child-centered, treatment-focused, and imbued with wrap-around services in settings that offer real rehabilitation for our youth. Rather than faraway youth prisons, these centers should be easily accessible to families to ensure sustained family engagement, filled with public workers trained in youth rehabilitation, and should provide culturally sensitive, developmentally-appropriate, and trauma-informed care.



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