For Immediate Release: March 29, 2021
Office of The Attorney General
– Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General
For Further Information:
TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced today that the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission is expanding its partnership with Inside Circle, a non-profit organization that uses therapeutic “healing circles” to address childhood trauma and break the cycle of violence and recidivism among incarcerated adults and youth. The program’s success within JJC facilities has spurred the development of a new component to include recently paroled youth through a “Young Adult Empowerment” initiative.
New Jersey is at the forefront of using Inside Circle’s intensive restorative process in juvenile settings as part of its efforts to provide the opportunities and stability necessary for youth to grow and thrive, and to ensure that young people develop the capacity to build and sustain strong and healthy relationships with their peers, staff, families, and communities.
With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the JJC began its partnership with Inside Circle in May 2019. In collaboration with JJC staff volunteers, Inside Circle has engaged JJC residents in healing circles facilitated by “credible messengers” – that is, specially trained adult members of the community whose lived experience in street culture and the criminal justice system make them relatable to the young people they work with. Through the intensive circle process, each resident has had space to confront past trauma, transform trigger responses and build trust and camaraderie, as well as opportunities to give back to family members, loved ones, and their communities. Inside Circle conducted its first intensive restorative circles over 20 years ago with adults in California state prisons.
The JJC has intentionally selected residents to participate who have committed significant violence in the community and demonstrated violent behavior while in custody. Since introducing the healing circles, the JJC has documented a 48 percent decrease in major disciplinary infractions among participants, as the youth have improved how they communicate and regulate their emotions.
The success of healing circles inside its facilities has led the JJC to initiate a similar approach with those same youth after they transition out of them. Inside Circle’s new Young Adult Empowerment initiative for recently paroled youth is aimed at bolstering their work readiness, financial literacy, and healthy responses to conflict and violence. During the pandemic, the program has been facilitated through twice-weekly video conversations between the young people and trained, caring adults. As social distancing guidelines allow, the JJC will evolve its model for keeping young adults on parole involved in pro-social connections with positive adults through in-person circles.
“Once again, other states are looking to New Jersey as a model to demonstrate how to build relationships and implement innovative programs. Working with Inside Circle, the Juvenile Justice Commission is the first state to expand this ground-breaking work to youth in custody. After demonstrating significant success with youth in JJC facilities, New Jersey will now replicate the program in settings outside of the JJC and in our communities,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This program exemplifies the commitment to the transformation of youth justice that has taken place at the JJC. When a young person’s placement with the JJC is required as a matter of community safety, we ensure that the time is well spent promoting rehabilitation, transformation, healing, and redirection so that young people return home able to live safely and productively.”
“As New Jersey’s lead juvenile justice agency, the Juvenile Justice Commission is actively promoting significant operational and programmatic reforms across the state, including in its own facilities. Working with Inside Circle through the JJC’s continued partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we are implementing practices that improve outcomes for young people involved with the juvenile justice system, their families, and their communities,” said Jennifer LeBaron, Ph.D., Acting Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission. “We have seen the remarkable transformations that can occur through the work of Inside Circle and the JJC is excited to take steps so that young people can continue the progress they have made after they leave a JJC program and return home.”
Recently, a former JJC resident was interviewed on Inside Circle’s blog. He tells his personal story and describes his participation in the Inside Circle process here: https://insidecircle.org/podcast/
“Youth and young adults deserve the opportunity to heal from harm inflicted on them and address harm they have committed on others, even when they have offended in serious and violent ways, said Tanya Washington, Senior Associate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “The approach utilized by Inside Circle facilitators is novel and it is effective because transforming pain reduces violence. New Jersey’s willingness to embrace this idea is commendable and inspiring.”
“New Jersey has exhibited great courage to undertake this effort and provide a space for transformation in the lives of young people in custody and those who return to the community. The Inside Circle team in partnership with JJC staff and men from NJ with lived experience are privileged to be connected to JJC residents and former residents as they evolve in the self-awareness of healthy choices now available to them that previously seemed unimaginable,” said Eldra Jackson III, Co-Executive Director, Inside Circle. ”Inside Circle is honored to be a part of something so special.”
The JJC was established in 1995 to serve as the single agency of the State government with centralized authority for planning, policy development, and provision of services in the juvenile justice system. The JJC is committed to implementing and promoting policies and practices that improve outcomes for young people involved with the juvenile justice system, their families, and their communities.
The JJC’s three primary responsibilities are providing care, custody, and rehabilitative services to youth committed to the agency by the courts, supervising and coordinating services for youth released from custody on parole, and supporting local efforts to provide prevention and early intervention services to at-risk and court-involved youth.