The Commission on Youth’s advisory committee for its study of the effectiveness and efficiency of Virginia’s juvenile detention centers held its second meeting on July 26 in Roanoke County. This study was prompted by the declining numbers of youth housed in juvenile detention centers and is exploring potential consolidation or repurposing of unused capacity in juvenile detention centers. VACo’s Executive Director, Dean Lynch, is serving on the Commission’s advisory committee, which was convened to assist with the study.
Senator David Marsden reiterated in his opening remarks that the care received by youth in the juvenile detention system is “first rate,” and that the state-local partnership providing these services is the system’s strength. He indicated his interest in working with the Administration on the issue and in approaching the issue of consolidation through incentives for localities rather than mandates and in reinvesting any savings in addressing gaps in services across the state.
Elizabeth Spinney, Policy Analyst with the Commission on Youth, presented an overview of the results of a survey of juvenile detention center directors. The survey captured information on the age of facilities, services provided within centers (including programming provided by community-based groups and volunteers), potential alternatives to detention, and whether detention centers could repurpose unused space for additional residential or community-based programming. Additional data to be gathered include more information on the home ZIP codes of youth housed in detention centers and more detail on transportation costs, as well as a better understanding of the increasing needs of youth being served. A representative of the Virgina Juvenile Detention Association and the Director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Amy Floriano, remarked on the severity of offenses being committed by juveniles in recent months.
Representatives from a local nonprofit organization discussed their work to serve survivors of human trafficking and their pursuit of a potential partnership with the local juvenile detention center. The nonprofit, Straight Street, and the local detention center have held some preliminary discussions about repurposing some of the detention center’s currently unused space as a site where potential clients could be stabilized and assessed; however, challenges for such a project include licensing requirements and renovation costs. Will Egen, Senior Policy Analyst for the Commission on Youth, explained the federal and state laws and regulations governing the operation of juvenile detention centers. Co-locating different types of facilities on the same property can be permissible (for example, a secure facility and a non-secure youth shelter), although another licensing entity may be involved in the process (for example, some facilities would be licensed by the Department of Social Services or the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services).
Issues discussed by the advisory committee included the expected increase in travel expenditures for sheriffs if facilities were consolidated; the need to support family visitation; and the importance of locality buy-in for repurposing unused capacity in detention centers. The meeting concluded with a tour of the Roanoke Valley Juvenile Detention Center. The advisory committee’s next meeting is scheduled for August 16 in Fairfax County.