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Virginia Reformers Aim to Reduce School Referrals to the Justice System

October 26, 2015
Zoe Schein

This month, youth advocates in Virginia have launched a bipartisan campaign aimed at reducing school referrals to the juvenile justice system and improving options for community-based supervision of youth in trouble with the law. Led in part by the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center (an NJJN member), the RISE for Youth Campaign focuses on reforms that increase community investment as a means of decreasing reliance on incarceration for youth.

According to a press release issued on October 1, 2015, the campaign’s goals include:

  • “Ending the school-to-prison pipeline in Virginia by reducing the number of students referred to the juvenile justice system for minor misbehaviors.
  • Supporting youth in their homes and communities by giving local governments funding to provide services to the youth in those settings rather than spending far greater sums of taxpayer dollars on state-run prisons that remove children from their homes and families.
  • Building a true continuum of evidence-informed placements for youth who cannot safely remain in their homes by creating secured facilities that are regionally based, focused on positive youth development and no larger than 24 beds.”

The RISE for Youth Campaign’s objectives are well-supported by evidence; research has shown that youth prisons put young people at high risk for abuse, mental health problems, and suicide—not to mention the costs to their social and educational development. Youth prisons have also been shown to contribute to high rates of reoffense—meaning not only does locking up youth fail to make communities safer, it may actually make them less so.  At the same time, community-based alternatives to incarceration have been shown to yield a number of benefits, including decreased recidivism, more appropriate treatment of youth, decreased stigma, and increased family participation.

Kate Duvall, Attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center, recently authored an op-ed on the subject of the RISE for Youth campaign and community-based programming for Virginia’s youth as part of a series for NJJN’s 10th Anniversary Celebration. You can read her piece here.

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