State Leaders Study Virginia Juvenile Justice Transformation

Posted April 11, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The National Governors Association (NGA) is bringing representatives of five states and territories to Richmond, Virginia, this week to learn about Virginia’s transformation in juvenile justice and its specific strategies for reducing juvenile incarceration, an evolution the Casey Foundation has invested in and supported with technical assistance for the past two years.

Representatives from Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and the Virgin Islands will learn how the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) are executing a common-sense approach to holding youth accountable and keeping communities safe by replacing its last two juvenile correction centers in the state with smaller, treatment-intensive secure care programs. The approach starts with a statewide continuum of community-based programs that give youth the guidance and network of support they need to get back on track. For the few who require secure confinement, it prescribes smaller, closer-to-home residential programs that prioritize rehabilitation, offering a path out and a path forward. This approach is consistent with recommendations that the National Institute of Justice issued in a recent report with the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authored by Casey President and CEO Patrick McCarthy.

“Virginia’s ultimate goal is better outcomes for young people in the juvenile justice system and safer communities,” said Nate Balis, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. “Governors and state officials everywhere want these same outcomes. They can learn from Virginia’s experience and adapt what works for their own systems.”

One strategy the state teams will be exploring during the learning lab is closing large residential facilities. The NGA-led group will visit Virginia’s Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center (JCC), where they will learn firsthand about the facility transformation process, including changing operational culture, improving services within a secure setting and strengthening youth and family services.

Virginia’s hard work is gaining traction:

  • The Department of Juvenile Justice recently awarded contracts that will expand its capacity to provide effective, community-based services. Youth do better and communities stay safer when high-quality interventions are available to get youth back on track within their home communities.
  • These new services will be funded by reinvestment of savings from the downsizing of Virginia’s juvenile correctional centers, thanks to a new budgeting authority that passed the General Assembly with broad bipartisan support.
  • To secure the savings necessary to fund the reinvestment, DJJ is safely reducing its population of youth in state custody. Since Governor McAuliffe took office in 2014, the population in the JCCs has fallen by more than half.
  • DJJ has invested heavily in staff training and support to improve conditions and culture within the JCCs in the short term, including strengthening relationships between youth and staff; engaging families and offering transportation for visits; focusing rigorously on education, career and skills development and providing opportunities for youth leadership such as student government.

“Through the learning lab, states will have the opportunity to learn from the great work being done in Virginia to improve outcomes for youth involved in their juvenile justice systems,” said Jeff McLeod, homeland security and public safety director for the NGA Center for Best Practices.

Read The Future of Youth Justice

Read how Virginia is engaging youth from the state’s juvenile corrections centers