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Minors Who Do Time in New Jersey’s Adult Prisons Must Deal with Intimidation

One offender, sentenced to several years in an adult prison, said he’s worried about the guards, not the other inmates

Jamal is serving nine years in an adult prison in New Jersey for two armed robberies and a carjacking he committed when he was 14. He was segregated from adult inmates until he turned 18. But it’s not inmates he’s worried about; it’s the guards.

"They'll say stuff like, 'We’ll take care of you here,'" Jamal said. "‘Ain’t no cameras’ and stuff like that."

Jamal was interviewed for WNYC’s “Kids in Prison” series, which explored the treatment of minor offenders in New Jersey; here, minors often are tried as adults, and they often serve longer sentences than their counterparts in New York state.

"You're blue, they're khaki," said Perry Shaw III, a former corrections officer in the Garden State. He said officers are taught to intimidate the inmates — “Because if I fear you, I’m going to respect you,” adding, "But I think the way we do it is wrong." He said the job is stressful and that guards feel locked in too.

The WNYC series contrasted aspects of the treatment of minors in New Jersey’s prisons with what young inmates in Germany experience. There, the role of corrections officers is to rehabilitate inmates. “We think demonstrating power is the wrong way,” said Joerg Jesse, a psychologist and the director of prisons in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "Demonstrating violence is even worse.”

In New Jersey it takes 16 weeks to train as a corrections officer. To become a corrections officer in Germany takes two years. Once on the job, guards there work without shank-proof vests, batons, whistles, handcuffs or Mace.

Listen to the full story on WNYC News, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

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