Program Areas

Juvenile Justice

Disaffected youth are a dominant theme in the fabric of social problems that stifle healthy development in families.  With little hope for their future, these adolescents organize into gangs that engage other insecure youth and prey on entire neighborhoods.  The Nicholson Foundation is actively supporting a series of initiatives to stem the growing numbers of gang members and juvenile delinquents in Newark.  One particularly promising development is the emergence of the Street Warriors, a group of ex-felons who understand the local street culture, can operate in that milieu, and to whom troubled youth can relate.  Committed to helping Essex teens avoid the path to prison, the Street Warriors provide these adolescents with crucial mentoring and violence prevention activities.

Another effective approach has been to improve the unacceptable conditions at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center.  Between 35%-40% of all New Jersey’s juvenile offenders live in Essex County and are placed in the Center.  Long-standing unjust conditions had been exacerbating the anger of the County’s incarcerated youth and undermining their prospects for rehabilitation.  The Center has been under a Federal Consent Decree since 1987 to correct the deficiencies, including unsafe and unsanitary conditions as well as significant overcrowding—in 2004, over 300 children were housed in the facility, meant for just 150.  After almost twenty years of little progress, State and local stakeholders intensified their efforts to improve and restructure the Detention Center and have the Consent Decree lifted.


Reducing Overcrowding at Essex County Juvenile Detention Center
With technical assistance from The Nicholson Foundation, the State Juvenile Justice Commission, the Newark Public Schools, the Rutgers Police Academy, Safer Cities (a coalition comprising the State Attorney General’s office, the State Parole Board, local police authorities, probation and community-based service providers) and the Detention Center itself worked with the County to identify the cause of the overcrowding.  They learned that judges were reluctant to release youthful prisoners into the community because of the dearth of post-release supervision programs, including ones that could link juvenile offenders to the medical, mental health and substance abuse services required by a majority of them.  In response to these findings, with Nicholson technical assistance, the County used previously unspent State Juvenile Justice funding to create alternative programs in the community that supervise and help young offenders once released from the Detention Center.  By mid 2006, the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center population was down to less than 150.  (Entry dated fall 2006)


Addressing Deficiencies and Reforming the Essex County Detention Center
A consultant was hired with Nicholson Foundation funding to collaborate with the Detention Center to write official policies and procedures, with an accompanying training curriculum, to address all of the outstanding deficient conditions described in the Consent Decree.  The consultant developed protocols for case management, behavior management, and grievance management.  She wrote a comprehensive policy and procedures manual and helped the staff put the new procedures into practice.  This comprehensive manual has been approved by the court monitor, making it very likely that the Consent Decree will be lifted in 2007.  Today, the Essex County Detention Center is considered by the Juvenile Justice Commission to be one of the best in the State, and its practices serve as a model.  Once the Consent Decree is lifted, the Detention Center will seek national accreditation.  (Entry dated fall 2006)


Discharge Planning
Ex-offenders confront substantial obstacles as they transition from the Detention Center to Essex County’s communities.  To succeed, most require critical social supports and services, including temporary financial assistance, housing, education, employment services and medical insurance to pay for essential medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment.  Historically, however, youthful offenders have applied for these vital services only upon release.  With a lag between application and receipt of services, significant numbers of the young ex-offenders have been unable to obtain jobs or access essential treatment for weeks or, sometimes, even months following discharge.

To increase the likelihood that juvenile offenders will reintegrate productively into their communities, the Juvenile Justice Commission in collaboration with Juvenile Parole, with help from the Social Security Administration, and with a grant and technical assistance from The Nicholson Foundation, developed a discharge planning program for those being released from the Detention Center.  Discharge planning starts with a comprehensive assessment of a youth’s post release service needs.  Two part-time staff funded by the Nicholson Foundation help these adolescents apply, pre-release, for the entitlements for which they qualify, such as public health insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits.  The youth also begin working with education and job placement providers.  Having the full array of supports in place to deal with family, peer and gang pressures and to confront the challenges of starting over, improves the likelihood that these juvenile ex-offenders will avoid the cycle of recidivism.  (Entry dated fall 2006)


Street Warriors
Organized informally at first, the Street Warriors connected with youth on the streets of Newark and made themselves available 24/7 to respond to calls for help when trouble was imminent.  They proved adept at reducing street tension and effective at rallying Newark’s at-risk youth around their message.  To bolster this constructive leadership emerging from the Newark community, The Nicholson Foundation provided the Street Warriors with technical assistance and funding to build their capacity and support their programming.  Today, they have a board of directors, a storefront headquarters, management systems, and an application pending for 501(c)(3) status.  The Street Warriors have contracts with the Newark Public Schools to teach classes in life skills and the State Juvenile Justice Commission to mentor incarcerated youth and work with their families prior to and after an adolescent’s release from the Detention Center.  They also provide crisis and gang intervention services.  In the summer of 2005, with Nicholson Foundation funding, and in collaboration with Churches in Cooperation, they implemented Peace in the Streets (PITS), a program that mentors high-risk youth and provides summer employment.  Due to the program’s success, the Newark Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training provided matching funds in 2006.  The Warriors have become an important element in the City’s strategy for changing the dynamics in Newark’s high-risk neighborhoods.  (Entry dated fall 2006)