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Delegate Floats Legislation To Shrink The Size of Planned Youth Prison

State officials are searching for a location to build a 60-bed juvenile detention center that serves incarcerated youth in the eastern part of Virginia. The project was rejected by local officials in Chesapeake and Isle of Wight. Meanwhile, a Democrat in the House of Delegates is proposing a bill to make that facility smaller.  

Advocates say large youth prisons, where Virginia disproportionately sends black youth, are failing to help young people and keep communities safe.  The Department of Juvenile Justice found that almost three quarters of juveniles who are held in youth prisons are convicted of another crime within three years of release. 

Delegate Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) has proposed a bill to build a 30-bed facility, instead of 60.  

“That’s what research says is the best number. And that’s what we need to start going by,” Ward said. “We’ve got to do what’s best for the kids. That’s what we’ve got to do. Stop looking at the dollars.”

Ward said she would like the smaller facilities to be woven into local communities instead of one larger, remote facility. 

“This plan will have the children in their community with people that they know, people that they understand and who understand them,” she said. “And they will have regular visits from family members and friends, that type of thing. We think that that’s going to be better for them then sending them off some place.”

“Ideally if we had the sites and we had the funding, that might be good,” said Department of Juvenile Justice Director Valerie Boykin. “I want to make sure that when we site a program though that we can provide the best array of services that young people need.”

DJJ provides and schooling and medical care among other services inside the facilities.  

Boykin said the department is already moving to shrink the size of the state’s juvenile justice facilities and focus more on rehabilitation, instead of just housing kids. She said it’s proving successful. 

“In fiscal year 2010, we had 850 kids committed in the state of Virginia. Today we have about 350,” Boykin said.

DJJ plans to close Virginian's last maximum security youth prison, a 284-bed facility in Bon Air, once the new facilities are constructed. 

 

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Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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