Virginia Shifts to Treatment-Focused Approach in Juvenile Justice

By: Snapper Tams, L’18

In June of 2017, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) closed Powhatan County’s Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center, one of the final vestiges of a decades long transition toward more punitive juvenile punishments.[1] All children housed at Beaumont were transferred to Chesterfield County’s Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, the only remaining statewide facility for youths in the Commonwealth.[2]

Prior to 2005, DJJ could assign court-involved children to one of fourteen different placements of varying security levels.[3] Nationally, the reliance on large, centralized facilities for juvenile corrections has decreased, but in Virginia that trend has been reversed.[4] A shrinking juvenile justice budget reduced the availability of existing alternatives over the past thirteen years.[5] In 2005, only 52% of the total 1,278 beds at DJJ’s disposal were in maximum security facilities, but by 2015, all 11 non-maximum security facilities had closed.[6] DJJ was left with just 605 available placement spots, more than 90% of which were in one of the Commonwealth’s two maximum security facilities, Beaumont or Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center.[7]

This reliance on traditional facilities was criticized in 2014, when the Department acknowledged two assessments concluding that DJJ’s juvenile correctional centers “were ineffective.”[8] These assessments noted that 38% of DJJ’s general fund dollars were spent on fewer than 10% of the youth served by DJJ, and of those 10%, “75% [were] rearrested within three years of their release from commitment.”[9] With a combined annual operational cost of nearly $50 million, DJJ could not continue exclusive operation of Beaumont and Bon Air.[10]

The Department responded in 2016 by unveiling its Transformation Plan, identifying inconsistent reentry planning, uneven local practices, and inadequate family engagement as primary obstacles to success.[11] Nearly three-quarters of the juveniles incarcerated at Beaumont and Bon Air, both located in central Virginia, were from cities and towns more than an hour away, making visitation—and program involvement—difficult for family members.[12] With these issues in mind, the Transformation Plan set forth three core goals: (1) reduce reliance on large and outdated incarceration facilities, (2) reform all aspects of the juvenile justice system by implementing treatment-focused practices, and (3) replace both of the Department’s large correctional centers with “smaller, regional, rehabilitative and treatment-oriented facilities” that can operate along a continuum of alternatives to traditional incarceration.[13]

While there seems to be widespread approval surrounding Beaumont’s closure, not all agree on what to do next. DJJ has recommended constructing two new juvenile facilities to replace Beaumont and Bon Air in Chesapeake and Hanover. A large percentage of court-involved youths come from the Norfolk/Newport News region and facilities in Chesapeake and Hanover would leave only a quarter of families more than an hour away from where their child was committed.[14] The Chesapeake City Council, however, rejected the plan to donate land to the state for construction of the new jail.[15] More recent proposals have suggested remodeling the existing Bon Air campus and adding a smaller, 60-bed facility in Hampton Roads or Isle of Wight.[16] As of yet, no proposal has been solidified.

Others believe that maximum security juvenile prisons like Beaumont and Bon Air are part of the problem, not the solution, and that building new facilities, even ones closer to where the children come from, does little to remedy the existing issue. RISE (Re-Invest in Supportive Environments) for Youth, a bipartisan coalition partnered with Legal Aid Justice Center, opposes the construction of new juvenile jails, arguing that in order to remain committed to the treatment-oriented goal, resources need to be invested back into the communities.[17] RISE argues that reducing school referrals for “minor misbehaviors” can decrease involvement with the juvenile justice system at the outset.[18] Instead of relying on school resource officers to intervene in every situation, schools can be more proactive in managing negative student behavior by trying to identify when and where the behavior manifests in an attempt to understand why the student is acting out.[19] For example, lack of paternal involvement and access to adequate daily meals are both significant contributors to behavioral problems, but traditional detention has been proven unlikely to remedy either.[20] Instead, schools have been more successful in addressing classroom conflict and negative student behavior through restorative justice practices.[21] A “true continuum of evidence-informed placements” must then include community-based services for children and families in their homes, not hundreds of miles away.[22] Such approaches have “proven more effective in reducing recidivism” than the traditional large facilities.[23]

Legislators, however, are not sold on an exclusively community-based approach. Both the Virginia House and Senate budget proposals have reserved funds “to build two, smaller, geographically appropriate” youth prisons for especially violent kids.[24] Given the $600 million gap between the House and Senate budget proposals, however, the likelihood of new construction remains difficult to predict.[25] Moreover, the rejected plan for a new juvenile prison in Chesapeake yields more uncertainty about where the potential new jails might be built, giving advocacy campaigns like RISE for Youth another opportunity to intervene.[26]

While the precise landscape of juvenile justice in Virginia is unclear for the foreseeable future, the reinvestment of resources is a promising step. This refocused treatment-oriented approach to juvenile justice represents a much needed prioritization of children most in need of intervention. Reducing the reliance on big, centralized jails will have lasting positive effects for communities throughout the Commonwealth, ensuring a better future for both sides of the facility’s walls.

[1] Laura McFarland, Beaumont Correctional in Powhatan County Closes its Doors, Rɪᴄʜᴍᴏɴᴅ Tɪᴍᴇꜱ-Dɪꜱᴘᴀᴛᴄʜ, Jun. 22, 2017, http://www.richmond.com/news/local/central-virginia/powhatan/powhatan-today/beaumont-correctional-in-powhatan-county-closes-its-doors/article_235360fa-57bb-11e7-aabe-27b0eec0a0bb.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., Fɪɴᴀʟ Rᴇᴘ. ᴏꜰ Tʜᴇ Iɴᴛᴇʀᴀɢᴇɴᴄʏ Tᴀꜱᴋ Fᴏʀᴄᴇ ᴏɴ Jᴜᴠ. Cᴏʀʀ. Cᴛʀꜱ. 3 (2017), http://www.djj.virginia.gov/pdf/about-djj/jcc-taskforce/Juvenile%20Correctional%20Center%20Task%20Force%20Final%20Report.pdf.

[4] Andrew Block, Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., Juv. Just. Budget Presentation to the S. Fin. Subcomm. on Pub. Safety 6 (Jan. 27, 2016), http://sfc.virginia.gov/pdf/Public%20Safety/2016/012716_No1_DJJ.pdf.

[5] Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., supra note 3 at 33.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., Tʀᴀɴꜱꜰᴏʀᴍᴀᴛɪᴏɴ Pʟᴀɴ 2017 Uᴘᴅᴀᴛᴇ i (2017), http://www.djj.virginia.gov/pdf/admin/Transformation%20Plan%20Final.pdf.

[9] Block, supra note 4 at 9.

[10] McFarland, supra note 1.

[11] Block, supra note 4 at 11.

[12] Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., supra note 3 at 69.

[13] Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., supra note 8.

[14] Block, supra note 4; Vᴀ. Dᴇᴘ’ᴛ ᴏꜰ Jᴜᴠ. Jᴜꜱᴛ., supra note 3 at ii.

[15] Id. at 69.

[16] Michael Martz, Juvenile Justice System at Crossroads in Transformation, Tʜᴇ Rᴏᴀɴᴏᴋᴇ Tɪᴍᴇꜱ, Feb. 4, 2018, http://www.roanoke.com/news/virginia/juvenile-justice-system-at-crossroads-in-transformation/article_bc2cd437-ca9e-529f-89bd-cad74ff27267.html.

[17] Rɪꜱᴇ ꜰᴏʀ Yᴏᴜᴛʜ, Why Now Is the Time for Juvenile Justice Reform in Virginia, https://www.riseforyouth.org/issues/now-is-the-time (last visited Apr. 1, 2018).

[18] Rɪꜱᴇ ꜰᴏʀ Yᴏᴜᴛʜ, Proposed Juvenile Justice Reforms, https://www.riseforyouth.org/issues/proposed-juvenile-justice-reforms (last visited Apr. 1, 2018).

[19] Dʀ. Jᴇꜱꜱᴇ W. Jᴀᴄᴋꜱᴏɴ III, Dᴏɴ’ᴛ Kɪᴄᴋ Tʜᴇᴍ Oᴜᴛ! Wʜʏ Bʟᴀᴄᴋ & Lᴀᴛɪɴᴏ Sᴛᴜᴅᴇɴᴛꜱ Gᴇᴛ Sᴜꜱᴘᴇɴᴅᴇᴅ Sᴏ Fʀᴇǫᴜᴇɴᴛʟʏ & 7 Sᴛᴇᴘꜱ ᴛᴏ Mᴀɴᴀɢᴇ ᴀɴᴅ Aᴅᴅʀᴇꜱꜱ Nᴇɢᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ Cʟᴀꜱꜱʀᴏᴏᴍ Bᴇʜᴀᴠɪᴏʀ Pʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍꜱ ᴀɴᴅ Aᴠᴏɪᴅ Sᴜꜱᴘᴇɴꜱɪᴏɴ 78 (2015).

[20] Id. at 34-35.

[21] Lily Ortega, Elaine Shpungin, and Mikhail Lyubansky, Eᴠᴀʟᴜᴀᴛɪᴏɴ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇ Rᴇꜱᴛᴏʀᴀᴛᴇ Sᴄʜᴏᴏʟ Pʀᴏɢʀᴀᴍ: Aʀᴍꜱᴛʀᴏɴɢ Hɪɢʜ Sᴄʜᴏᴏʟ, Rɪᴄʜᴍᴏɴᴅ, Vɪʀɢɪɴɪᴀ, 2013 https://a4uj.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/evaluation-of-armstrong-high-school-restorative-school-program-2012-2013.pdf (finding that rates of both in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped considerably at Richmond’s Armstrong High School after restorative circles were implemented in response to students conflicts).

[22] Rɪꜱᴇ ꜰᴏʀ Yᴏᴜᴛʜ, supra note 20.

[23] Id.

[24] Block, supra note 4 at 13; Sandy Hausman, Virginia Debates New Rehab Centers for Kids, Rᴀᴅɪᴏ IQ, Feb. 6, 2018, http://wvtf.org/post/virginia-debates-new-rehab-centers-kids; Rachael Deane, Virginia Budget Proposals Don’t Reflect Community Voices, Rɪꜱᴇ ꜰᴏʀ Yᴏᴜᴛʜ, Feb. 28, 2018, https://www.riseforyouth.org/2018/02/28/virginia-budget-proposals-dont-reflect-community-voices.

[25] Michael Martz, Virginia House and Senate Budget Plans are More Than $600 Million Apart Because of Medicaid Expansion, Cash Reserve, Rɪᴄʜᴍᴏɴᴅ-Tɪᴍᴇꜱ Dɪꜱᴘᴀᴛᴄʜ, Feb. 18, 2018, http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/general-assembly/virginia-house-and-senate-budget-plans-are-more-than-million/article_5aa40b75-8943-5c13-b90f-da5c49724199.html.

[26] Victoria Bourne, Joint Juvenile Justice Center is Off the Table in Chesapeake, Tʜᴇ Vɪʀɢɪɴɪᴀɴ-Pɪʟᴏᴛ, Nov. 21, 2017, https://pilotonline.com/news/government/local/article_7953ab10-439b-5d10-9691-cf8950a653c1.html.

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