New Report Recommends Community-Based Reforms to Virginia’s Youth Prison System

Justice Fellowship, Right on Crime and the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy Highlight Opportunity for Reforms to Juvenile Justice System

Today Justice Fellowship, Right on Crime and the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy released new research aimed at finding meaningful solutions for Virginia’s juvenile justice system. Their recommendations would advance public safety, reduce costs for taxpayers and improve proportionality of punishment for youth while providing greater tools for restoration of the whole community.

“While Virginia has made substantive progress in the area of juvenile justice, we are at a pivotal moment for fundamental reform, said Craig DeRoche, executive director of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship’s criminal justice advocacy arm. “Right now, Virginia’s juvenile justice system relies too much on large youth prisons far from home that ultimately fail to provide benefits to public safety while placing an enormous burden on taxpayers. This report sends a loud and clear message that Virginians on both sides of the aisle should support changes to improve community safety, protect taxpayers and give all youth in Virginia a chance to succeed.”

The report, “Juvenile Justice Reform in Virginia,” provides an analysis of existing data from Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, including the high cost to taxpayers and high recidivism rates resulting from current methods of incarceration. The conclusions in the report advocate for the state to limit its historic reliance on incarceration in remotely located, large facilities and instead establish “a workable infrastructure of community-based options that respect the victim, reform the youth and protect the family unit.”

“Virginia taxpayers deserve government programs that work effectively, and nowhere is that more evident than in juvenile justice, where an effective program at an early age can pay huge dividends in later years—not only in the lives of Virginia’s youth, but in public safety as well,” said Christian N. Braunlich, vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. “This paper goes a long way toward helping to steer our juvenile justice program in a direction that all political persuasions can agree upon.”

The new report comes amid increased dialogue around reforming Virginia’s treatment of juveniles and supports the use of secure group homes that confine high-risk youth in settings that allow for more individualized treatment and increased family visitation. The report provides a summary of the current problems plaguing juvenile justice in Virginia, including: youth referred to law enforcement in schools; incarceration of non-violent youth; severe impacts on youth with mental health disorders; high costs to taxpayers; high recidivism rates; and division of families.

“Right on Crime is excited to see new movement in the field of juvenile justice, particularly efforts that will reduce recidivism rates as we reach this very important demographic,” read a statement released by the organization.

The report also provides several concrete recommendations for reform, including:

  • Task the Department of Juvenile Justice with preparing a plan for investing in community-based alternatives within Virginia localities, beginning with a survey of what community infrastructure and capacity already exists
  • Further decrease the number of youths committed to juvenile correctional centers for non-violent theft by reforming the outmoded larceny threshold
  • Increase victim participation in the juvenile justice process by involving the harmed party in determining proper restitution amount and structure
  • Consider the expansion and improvement of protocols to identify serious mental illness in youth and place a priority on addressing those needs through outpatient treatment plans combined with juvenile probation as an alternative to incarceration
  • Address the high school-to-law enforcement referral rate by increasing restorative justice program access in schools and creating an exception to the disorderly conduct code section for behavior of youths within the school environment


Craig DeRoche is available to discuss the current problems with Virginia’s approach to juvenile justice and the findings of “Juvenile Justice Reform in Virginia.” For interviews, please contact Anna Hutsell or 770.813.0000.