HB 551 (Ward) and SB 1033 (Locke) seek to encourage placement of youth involved in the juvenile justice system in small facilities that are close to home rather than relying on larger correctional facilities, an approach in keeping with recent work by the Department of Juvenile Justice to close Beaumont Correctional Center and reinvest the savings in establishing community-based services across the state. The bills would require any juvenile correctional center built after July 1, 2020, to be designed to house no more than 30 children and be located within a locality in which at least 5 percent of juvenile commitments occur.
The legislation also provides that the Department of Juvenile Justice would be charged with placing youths in the juvenile community correctional center closest to their primary residences, which must be within one hour via car or within an hour and a half by public transportation. As introduced, the bills required that if such a placement were not available, the Department must use the alternative placement that was closest to the juvenile’s primary residence, such as a local juvenile detention center. VACo and VML met with proponents of the bills to express concern that local juvenile detention centers would be considered a default placement option in these circumstances, even if they did not offer the most appropriate services to meet the youth’s needs or were otherwise not suitable settings. The bills were amended to provide that the Department would use the most appropriate alternative placement, which would broaden the available options and allow the Department to consider the services offered in local programs when making placement decisions.
Broader issues of cost continued to surround both bills, with the Department suggesting in its fiscal impact review that it would be required to build six smaller facilities, rather than two 60-bed facilities (as currently planned by the agency), in order to comply with the legislation, with associated increases in capital and operating costs. SB 1033 was heard in Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services, reported, and rereferred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, where the bill was continued to 2021. HB 551 was reported from the House Public Safety Committee and rereferred to the House Appropriations Committee, from which the bill failed to emerge before the crossover deadline for action on legislation.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle