Num­ber of mi­nors be­ing held has been cut by more than half in past three years

Daily Press - - Front Page - By Dave Ress Staff writer

New guide­lines for treat­ment of youth in the state ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem have re­duced the num­ber of mi­nors be­hind bars as well as in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence there, the De­part­ment of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice says in a new re­port.

The de­part­ment also is mov­ing to en­sure de­ci­sions about in­car­cer­a­tion are not af­fected by a youth’s race or lo­cal­ity, with a new stan­dard­ized de­ci­sion process, pi­loted in Newport News and four other parts of the state.

In an up­date this week on its three-year-old trans­for­ma­tion plan, the de­part­ment said the av­er­age daily pop­u­la­tion in ju­ve­nile cor­rec­tional cen­ters dropped to 216 in fis­cal year 2018 from 466 in FY2015.

And re­ports of ag­gres­sive in­ci­dents in cor­rec­tional cen­ters dropped 25 per­cent over the past year, and are down nearly 90 per­cent since the trans­for­ma­tion plan’s launch in 2015.

That’s de­spite the fact the per­cent­age of youth clas­si­fied as high risk is up, from 71 per­cent to 81 per­cent. A key ef­fort of the trans­for­ma­tion

pro­gram is to lock up mostly the high­est-risk youth and find al­ter­na­tives for oth­ers.

As part of that ef­fort, the de­part­ment re­vised its guide­lines for re­leas­ing youth sen­tenced to open-ended stays in a state cor­rec­tional cen­ter.

In the past, some youth with re­peated mi­nor of­fenses had ended up be­hind bars with no set re­lease date. Un­der the new sys­tem, tar­get re­lease dates are based on the sever­ity of of­fenses and how the youth re­sponds to in­car­cer­a­tion.

In­side a cor­rec­tional cen­ter, new job de­scrip­tions, ti­tles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for se­cu­rity staff have led to more struc­tured, in­ten­sive ther­a­peu­tic ac­tiv­i­ties for in­car­cer­ated youth.

The new guide­lines also aim to keep the same staffers in hous­ing units so they build trust with youths.

As an al­ter­na­tive to a stay in a state cor­rec­tional cen­ter — ba­si­cally a prison — the lo­cal ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­ters in Ch­e­sa­peake, James City County and Vir­ginia Beach are among the nine that have opened com­mu­nity place­ment pro­grams. De­ten­tion cen­ters are in­tended for shorter stays than a state cor­rec­tional cen­ter.

Th­ese pro­grams keep youth closer to their homes and of­fer ed­u­ca­tion, job train­ing and classes on get­ting along with oth­ers.

The de­part­ment’s pi­lot pro­gram to stan­dard­ize de­ci­sions about in­car­cer­a­tion will use a cus­tom­ized risk-screen­ing tool.

The goal is to end up with ob­jec­tive rec­om­men­da­tions on whether a young per­son needs to go to a cor­rec­tional cen­ter, be on pro­ba­tion, be in some al­ter­na­tive pro­gram — or, in some cases, not be in the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem at all.

The re­port said de­part­ment data showed young of­fend­ers were treated dif­fer­ently based on race or where they lived, and the new tool is de­signed to fix that.

The court ser­vices unit in Newport News, along with those in Chatham, Culpeper, Ch­ester­field and War­ren­ton be­gan test­ing the new de­ci­sion-mak­ing tool in Septem­ber.

The test will run through early next month, af­ter which the de­part­ment will see how well it worked and whether it needs any im­prove­ments. It hopes for a statewide launch next year.

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