Currently, people from both progressive and conservative circles are calling for criminal justice reform. While we celebrate the bi-partisan awakening which is occurring we harken back to the prophetic call of our ancestors who did not call for slavery or Jim Crow reform but rather ABOLITION! It is time to Abolish Youth Prisons, Abolish the Drug War, Abolish the Foreclosure Crisis, Abolish Racial Disparities in Sentencing, Abolish School Segregation, and Abolish the Use of Solitary Confinement!
Abolish Youth Prisons!
150 YEARS WAS ENOUGH!
January 8, 2018, 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.
“Youth incarceration is a moral stain on our state,” said Rev. Charles Boyer. “We must reject the lie that our kids are unredeemable—that the children locked up in Jamesburg and Hayes should be judged by the worst thing they’ve ever done, rather than the best person they can ever be. We must do better by our kids and their future. We must create a youth justice system that is guided by the principle that every child can be saved. That is what this moment is all about.”
Abolish the Drug War
In New Jersey, African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites even though both use marijuana at similar rates. As faith leaders it is obvious we do not support or promote the recreational use of marijuana, but we should support the end of prohibition. Marijuana prohibition must be understood from a moral and racial justice perspective. African American faith leaders, especially have seen firsthand how the war on drugs has disproportionately harmed our communities even though black and white communities use marijuana at similar rates. Marijuana laws have been used to support biased policies like stop and frisk, racial profiling and the deportation of people of color. As people of faith, we are called to pursue a fairer and more compassionate world. Abolishing the Drug War is an essential step to realizing this purpose. We must understand clearly that marijuana prohibition started as a means to control and incarcerate African Americans and Mexicans. It has done exactly what it was designed for.
Every year in New Jersey, more than 24,000 people are arrested for marijuana possession. More than fifty years after the War on Drugs was launched, it is time to acknowledge that marijuana prohibition has failed to stem drug use or promote the safety of our communities. Instead, it has served as a gateway to the criminal justice system and a barrier to opportunity for people in New Jersey and around the country.
Abolish School Segregation
We often celebrate NJ as a progressive state. A state on the forefront of justice and forward thinking when it comes to racial justice issues. But the truth is when we peel back the liberal facade we see that NJ has an insidious, incestuous, relationship between poverty, race, housing and education. NJ’s segregation is amongst the worst in the nation and it is a segregation of socio economic status. We continue to act as if this problem doesn’t exist. We pretend that we can fix it through inadequate funding models and false promises. But the facts and the history prove that when black, white and latino children’s destiny are inextricably linked we are a better people and a more just and moral society.
It was the immorality of segregation that the the American Federation of Teachers, on behalf of its 60,000 members, submitted that segregation in public schools inevitably results in inferior education for all. These teachers testified to: "the loss of human values and the waste of the resources of the spirit, the deep rooted evils inherent in segregated schools which ultimately prove that in America ..justice is relative and considers race and color ..and a different flag waves over a colored school and the pledge to the flag must mean different things. The one nation is really not one nation but at least two, it is found to be divisible, and liberty, like justice, has two meanings. They further wrote that, “The damage to the white child is more subtle. In a moral and spiritual sense he is corrupted, while the other is corroded. The material advantage is purchased at the cost of an uneasy spirit.”
The gospel write Mark tells of a story of Jesus Taking a child in his arms, he to all the people around him, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me!” The moral questions we must ask ourselves are; Do we see all of New Jersey’s children as God’s children? Do we see all of New Jersey’s children as our own? and if we do as we should, will we welcome them into full community with each other and with us despite their race and social-economic status?
We are a diverse coalition of community leaders, parents, faith leaders, civil rights advocates and members of the business community who have come together to tackle this problem head on. We are asking the courts to strike down two state laws that drive segregation in education and prevent our children from achieving their full potential.
Abolish Solitary Confinement
Faith communities in New Jersey have campaigned tirelessly in support of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which promotes humane alternatives to isolation, ends prolonged isolation and increases transparency and institutional oversight, because we are witnesses to the impact of holding someone in a cell the size of a bathroom for months, years, even decades. Our communities witness first-hand the condition of men and women returning home, sometimes straight from isolation cells to our communities. Far too often they are less capable of meaningful engagement in society because of the senseless trauma they have endured. Solitary creates more victims rather than bringing healing to those who are victimized.
We must also denounce the disproportionate impact of isolation on communities of color, especially mindful that New Jersey was recently ranked worst in the nation for racial disparity in sentencing. Prolonged solitary confinement is unjustifiable and is torture that must be abolished for the safety of corrections staff, incarcerated people and the communities and families to which they will one-day return.
Medical and mental health experts, leading corrections officials, people of faith, legislators, legal advocacy groups, concerned citizens and formerly incarcerated people and their families are united in support for an end to long-term isolation. With the recent passage of this act through both houses of the Legislature, New Jersey has now established itself as a national leader on this critical issue.
The human cost of this practice is immeasurable and the moral cost, far too high. It is time to sign this bill into law in our state. New Jersey is now poised to join other states, with both Republican and Democratic governors, in confronting the immoral practice of solitary confinement in our prisons.
What Can I Do to Help?
- Contact legislator and encourage then to support the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act!
- Contact the Office of the Governor, PO Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625 609-292-6000
- Forward this to everyone in your network.
- Help spread the word on social media:
On Twitter – tweet this post: @GovMurphy sign the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act Into Law #solitaryistorture #STOPsolitary
On Facebook – share this status on Facebook : @GovMurphy sign the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act Into Law #solitaryistorture #STOPsolitary The human cost of this practice is immeasurable and the moral cost, far too high!
Spread the word to everyone in your network so we can continue to build the momentum!