The Virginia Commission on Youth received a presentation on September 21 on the results of a study of the efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s juvenile detention centers. This study was prompted by the declining numbers of youth housed in juvenile detention centers and explored potential consolidation or repurposing of unused capacity in these facilities. VACo’s Executive Director, Dean Lynch, served on the Commission’s advisory group, which was convened to assist with the study and met three times this summer. (VACo reported on these meetings in previous County Connections articles, which may be found at this link and at this link.)
The study found that there have been significant decreases in the number of youths served by juvenile detention centers, and increases are not expected in the next several years. Information from the Department of Juvenile Justice presented to the Commission indicated that the juvenile detention center average daily population was 750 in 2021, but this figure is projected to be 321 for 2022 and in each of the next five years. All juvenile detention centers reported an average daily population in 2021 that was below the facilities’ operational capacity. During its summer meetings, the advisory group discussed the possibility of consolidating some of the juvenile detention centers and redirecting savings into enhancing programs and services, as well as potential unintended consequences of such a proposal (such as additional travel time for youths to make court appearances and for families to visit detained youths). The group also discussed the potential for repurposing some unused capacity within detention centers to meet other needs of youth, such as a possible reuse of space within the Roanoke Valley Juvenile Detention Center as a site where potential clients of a local nonprofit could be stabilized and assessed; challenges for such a project include licensing requirements and renovation costs.
The recommendations presented to the Commission on September 21 do not represent the consensus of the advisory group, and Commission members expressed their strong interest in receiving public comment on the proposals. The full list of recommendations under consideration may be found at this link. Key recommendations of particular interest to local governments include the following:
- Directing or requesting the Department of Juvenile Justice to implement a process to identify specific juvenile detention centers to be defunded and consolidated to align facility capacity with regional needs.
- Requesting the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of Education, to develop a reinvestment plan to meet the needs of public safety and education for juvenile detention centers, taking into consideration ways to reinvest savings in places or programs for youth who are in or at risk of becoming part of the juvenile justice system.
- Providing additional resources for the added transportation time and expenses that may be imposed on law enforcement offices as a result of consolidating juvenile detention centers. Options proposed include providing additional funding to reimburse sheriffs for transportation costs and creating a state-administered fund for off-duty or retired sheriffs and law enforcement officers to provide transportation for juveniles on an as-needed basis.
- Several recommendations would direct the state to work with detention centers to repurpose unused capacity on a voluntary basis, to include assistance with potential grant opportunities and streamlining of regulations for licensing of co-located facilities by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and/or the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). An additional recommendation would allow localities and regional commissions that operate juvenile detention centers to enter into agreements with entities licensed by DSS or DBHDS for the purpose of repurposing part of a detention center for DSS or DBHDS-licensed uses.
Public comment must be received by 5:00 p.m. Friday, October 14, 2022, for consideration at the October 19 Commission meeting. Comments may be submitted by email to Executive Director Amy Atkinson at email@example.com; comments may also be submitted by mail to the Commission on Youth at 900 E. Main St,11th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219.
VACo Contacts: Dean A. Lynch, CAE, and Katie Boyle