Group calling on lawmakers to stop locking up kids

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Rallying outside the General Assembly, a group of community activists had a message for lawmakers, “Incarcerating kids doesn’t work.” An ongoing 8News investigation has revealed that Virginia leads the nation in referring kids to cops, courts, and correctional centers.

“They don’t work, they are half empty and they’re unsafe for kids and they are not making our communities safe,” says Amy Woolard, senior attorney with Voices for Virginia’s Children.

Community activists like Woolard are pressing the state to close its youth prisons.It appears the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice may agree. DJJ is proposing closing the Bon Air Correctional Center in Chesterfield and the Beaumont Correctional Center in Powhatan.

8News obtained a copy of the proposal submitted to the Governor. It suggests that many of the state’s youth prison population might be better served with therapy of community programs. It reveals more than half of the kids in the state’s youth prisons were physically abused, many by a family member.  58 percent come from a home where a parent was involved in criminal activity.

Woolard says, “I think what we would like to see is a deep investment in a continuum of family based and community-based supports and services for kids.”

The proposal also notes education and mental health challenges for the incarcerated youth. The average I-Q for these kids an 87. The general population is 100.

“If we can locate facilities closer to the communities where people are coming from, if we can have them built on a much smaller scale, if we can have residential units that are much smaller I think we can get better outcomes,” said Andy Block, the director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

As for employees at the prisons, DJJ says some positions would be reduced for attrition, others would be relocated to smaller facilities.

A decision from the Governor is expected next month.

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