Newark’s Pilot Program on ‘Restorative Justice’: Steering Youth Clear of Crime

Jaqueline Henry, the senior director of youth education and employment services at the nonprofit United Community Corporation, recognizes the profound influence of environment on young individuals. Spearheading the Restorative and Transformative Justice Hub, a collaborative effort with Essex County, she aims to guide youths away from criminal pathways. The program, funded by a $1.4 million grant from the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission, is designed to engage participants in educational, relational, and employment activities, alongside mental health and well-being support.

In an interview with TAPinto Newark following a Feb. 5 news conference at the West Side Community Center, Henry emphasized the importance of understanding the underlying reasons behind youth delinquency. She emphasized, “We are looking forward to truly doing the work to help our young people overcome their challenges. We understand that young people, they don’t just wake up and say ‘I want to be disruptive, or I don’t want to go to school. There’s a reason.”

The program, currently accepting referrals from public and charter schools in Newark and the criminal justice system, aims to serve approximately 300 young individuals over the two-year grant period, with 20 to 40 participants engaged at any given time. The duration of participation varies, ranging from 30 days to six months, contingent upon the nature of the referral.

Operating within Newark’s ecosystem of violence reduction programming and social service agencies, the initiative aims to address various underlying issues faced by youth, such as food insecurity and housing instability, alongside providing educational support.

Anibal Ramos Jr., the North Ward councilman and Essex County Director of Citizen Services, highlighted the decline in the population at the county’s juvenile detention center, attributing it to effective community programs providing alternatives for at-risk youth.

The Restorative and Transformative Justice for Youth and Communities Pilot Program, established under legislation signed into law by the late Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver in 2021, extends beyond Newark to Paterson, Trenton, and Camden. According to state Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, these programs play a crucial role in intervening and disrupting the cycle of violence before it escalates, thereby positively impacting both individuals and communities.

Recognizing the significance of such initiatives, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz emphasized the importance of data-driven outcomes to advocate for funding and expansion of similar programs statewide. As the first of its kind in New Jersey, the pilot program holds the potential to pave the way for comprehensive reform in youth justice and community empowerment efforts.

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