RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gina Lyles was just a 9-year-old when she was pulled from her home and locked up.
“I was put into the system based on the fact that I was told I was a bad child,” Lyles told 8News Investigative Reporter Kerri O’Brien.
Lyles would remain behind the razor wire and brick walls of Virginia’s youth prisons until she was 17.
“I don’t feel like any child should be in prison,” she said. “They’re brain is not functioning like adults brains are functioning.”
An 8News investigation earlier this month revealed Virginia leads the nation in referring kids to cops. Lyles says as a kid, she feels she was lashing out because of a lack of parental role model. She says the youth prison system did little to fill that gap.
“There was not any mentoring going on around me like big sister big brother,” she explained.
Just six years after getting out of a youth prison, she ended up back behind bars.
That’s not uncommon, says Andy Block the Director of Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice.
“The three-year arrest rates for young people is close to 80 percent,” Block says.
Speaking at a town hall meeting at the Art 180 Gallery, Block told a group calling for reform that the state is looking to make a change.
“Ultimately what we would like to do is replace Beaumont and Bon Air juvenile correctional centers with centers, facilities that are newer, smaller,” he explained.
The proposal submitted to the Governor also calls for keeping incarcerated kids closer to their families and expanding mental health services.
Block says in closing the youth prisons, most positions would be reduced through attrition.
A decision is expected when the Governor presents his two-year budget in December.
As for Lyles, she’s got her life together now. She’s even working with troubled youth helping to provide them with that mentor she missed out on.