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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | VA

Virginia: 2013 | 2012 | 2010 | 2009 



  • Facility Closures and Downsizing — Virginia Closes Juvenile Correctional Facility: Given the decreased number of youth committed to Virginia’s juvenile justice system, the Department of Juvenile Justice closed the Hanover Juvenile Correctional Center. The number of commitments in the state dropped 31 percent between 2008 and 2012. Closure of the Hanover facility follows two other facility closures in 2005 and 2009.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Virginia Allows Youth to Have their Cases Reviewed Based on New Scientific Evidence: Virginia now allows youth who have been adjudicated in the juvenile justice system to submit a motion for the evaluation of new or previously untested scientific evidence. Previously, only individuals in the adult system could file such a motion. The law also gives the Virginia Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals the power to review such petitions and issue writs of innocence for youth who are exonerated based on such evidence. H.B. 1308/Act No. 170, signed into law March 12, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Schools Gain Clear Authority to Handle Offenses Internally, without the Filing of a Petition: Virginia law now allows schools to handle school-based offenses through graduated sanctions or educational programming, rather than the filing of a delinquency petition. Prior law specified school-based offenses that had to be reported to law enforcement; an amendment clarifies that schools are not required to file petitions for all reportable offenses, thereby decreasing the number of school-based offenses handled by the court system. H.B. 1864/Act No. 800, signed into law May 3, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Virginia Removes Non-Gun Weapons from Automatic Expulsion Statute: Prior to a new legislative change in Virginia, the state’s automatic expulsion statute defined “firearm” to mean guns as well as other weapons that are not guns, such as knives, razor blades, and slingshots. This forced schools to automatically expel any student who brought such an item to school. The law now restricts the definition of “firearm” to actual guns. H.B. 1866/Act No. 288, signed into law March 13, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Virginia Law Clearly Defines Bullying in Order to Avoid Over-Criminalizing Youth: The Virginia General Assembly added a clear definition of bullying to its anti-bullying statute, in order to distinguish true bullying from ordinary peer conflict. Now, bullying is “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma.” The definition specifically excludes ordinary teasing, horseplay, or arguments. The definition is written in a way that youth can understand, avoiding overly legalistic language, and is intended to be specific enough so that innocent behavior isn’t included. The change is an effort to avoid the overuse of zero tolerance policies and the over-criminalization of normal youth behavior. H.B. 1871/Act No. 575, signed into law March 20, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Virginia Avoids Attempt to Increase Police in Schools: Despite the governor’s recommendations to his School and Campus Safety Task Force that the state spend an additional $33 million on school policing, security, and mental health, the task force did not endorse bills to place a school resource officer (SRO) in every Virginia school (including elementary schools). The final budget included only $1.3 million in new funding for SROs and a revolving fund for safety-related infrastructure improvements. Two bills that would have greatly increased sharing of juvenile law enforcement records (H.B. 2347 and H.B. 2344) were also scaled back.
  • Youth Involved in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems — Virginia Facilitates Reentry for Older Dual-Jurisdiction Youth: Older youth in Virginia who were wards of the child welfare system prior to being committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) are now eligible for independent living services upon release from DJJ. Ninety days prior to release, youth aged 18 to 21 are eligible to receive information on available independent living services and the court must work with the Department of Social Services to develop a plan to help the youth transition successfully to independent living. The law explicitly requires DJJ and DSS to work collaboratively to ensure communication regarding services and facilitate transition planning. S.B. 863/Act No. 362, signed into law March 14, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.

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  • Sex Offender Laws and Registries — Virginia Fails to Pass Bill Mandating Lifetime Registration for Youth Convicted of Certain Sex Offenses: Advocates in Virginia helped to defeat a bill that would have mandated lifetime registration for youth over the age of 13 convicted of certain sex offenses. The bill would have been applied retroactively. H.B. 624.

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  • Youth in the Adult System — Youth Transferred to Adult System May Be Detained in Juvenile Facilities: Youth in Virginia who are transferred to the adult system must now be placed in a secure juvenile detention facility pending trial, rather than an adult jail, unless the court determines that the youth is a threat to the security or safety of other detained youth or staff. S.B. 259/Ch. 739, signed into law April 13, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.

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  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Schools May Not Suspend Students for Truancy: Virginia public schools may no longer suspend students solely based on truancy issues. Prior to the legislative change, over 15,000 students were suspended each year for being tardy or truant. H.B. 1794/Ch. 70, signed into law February 25, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.

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Photo: PhotosByDavid, under Creative Commons License.