Last year, the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs (WRI) was contracted by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to promote positive youth development and reduce juvenile delinquency in Burlington County. The Burlington County Prevention Policy Board (BCPPB) now joins the Cumberland County Positive Youth Development Coalition (CCPYDC) as the second OAG funded County-Wide prevention effort staffed by WRI. Comprised of Burlington City, Pemberton Township and Willingboro, BCPPB’s efforts kicked-off with a presentation of county- and municipality-level data at three DataWalk sessions held in March, April and May. The data presented will be used to guide future BCPPB initiatives aimed at preventing youth from entering the justice system.
The WRI-staffed DataWalks presented many important points for stakeholders to take into consideration as they begin their work. Overall, the number of households in Burlington County with children under age 18 has decreased between 2010 and 2014 by 4.2%. In addition, the County has seen a significant increase in its Latino/Hispanic population—an 80% increase between 2000 and 2014, which is almost twice the rate of the state at 47.7%. While all three municipalities have seen similar increases, Burlington City had the largest rise with an increase of 131% during the same time period.
Between 2010 and 2014, the number of Burlington County citizens living in poverty increased by 28%, on par with the state at 28.6%. Poverty has increased at higher rates in all of BCPPB’s municipalities, with the largest increase coming from Willingboro at 85.7%. The number of families with children under age 18 living in poverty has risen as well, from 9.1% in 2010 to 15% in 2014. These figures are higher than the state average, where in 2014, 12.6% of families with children under age 18 were living in poverty. Of the three municipalities, Willingboro saw the largest increase in families living below the poverty line, rising by 149%.
WRI’s presentations also highlighted areas where the county and three municipalities are seeing positive change. Mean family income increased across Burlington County between 2010 and 2014, including Burlington City and Willingboro. The college educated population has grown in Burlington City and Pemberton since 2000. Between 2011 and 2014, the graduation rates of Burlington City High School and Willingboro High School increased and Pemberton High School has consistently graduated students at a rate higher than the state’s target. During the 2013-2014 school year, all three schools had dropout rates at or below the state target and reduced their suspension rates significantly.
Juvenile arrests in Burlington County decreased by 3.8% between 2013 and 2015. In Burlington City and Willingboro, arrests decreased by 13.8% and 24.7%, respectively. Arrests in Pemberton stayed relatively steady, increasing by only 1.8%. While not directly comparable, overall juvenile arrests in New Jersey decreased by 45.4% between 2009 and 2013.
The DataWalk also uncovered low utilization of Stationhouse Adjustments (SHAs) by Burlington City, Pemberton and Willingboro. SHAs are a diversion program created by the OAG that provides first-time youth offenders with an opportunity to perform community service instead of facing jail time or a criminal record. Sixteen SHAs were administered during the same three years, despite youth arrests 919 youth between 2013-15. Notably, not all youth are eligible for a SHAs; only minor, first-offense violations qualify, and only in circumstances where victims agree to the program’s use, among other such stipulations.