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JLARC study highlights disparities in Virginia’s juvenile justice system

Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center
Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center(WDBJ)
Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 8:32 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - How young people are treated in Virginia’s Juvenile Justice System depends in part on where they live.

So says a new report from Virginia’s Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission.

Monday morning, JLARC staffers briefed lawmakers on their review of the state and local programs and facilities that deal with young offenders.

“In some areas you’re eight times more likely to be put in a facility, I guess is the best way to put it,” said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax Co.) “That to me is really shocking, because it shows the tremendously disparate way that kids are treated in this Commonwealth.”

There are a number of reasons for that, JLARC said, including the availability of community-based services, the variation in regional policies and awareness of sentencing options.

“We have a recommendation in there that would have DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) and CSUs (court service units) help judges understand what options are available and may be appropriate for youth other than, for example, putting them in a detention center or committing them to DJJ,” said Project Leader Drew Dickinson.

The report identified other problems, including racial disparities, a shortage of highly qualified attorneys to represent young offenders, and ineffective rehabilitation programs.

State officials say they are making progress

“Have we figured it all out, ladies and gentlemen? No we have not,” said Valerie Boykin Director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, “but we’re proud of that broader array of services.”

Boykin told lawmakers the agency is very different than it was five years ago, but is still in the “early stages of change.”

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