Incarcerating kids: New report urges state to think smaller

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As Virginia reconsiders how it incarcerates kids, a new report reveals startling new data about the cost and effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s Juvenile Correctional Facilities. It’s a controversial topic 8News has been investigating for months.

$42 million dollars is the budgeted cost for a new juvenile correctional facility in the state. A new report from the Rise for Youth Campaign Coalition, a group advocating that youth prisons don’t work, found that hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent just for the secure wire fencing around the youth prisons.

The report also reveals housing just one child behind costs the taxpayer anywhere between $142,000-$206,000 per year, and the current systems appears to be doing little to rehabilitate.

“All agree what they currently have is not working,” Jeree Thomas, an Attorney with the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, told 8News Investigative Reporter Kerri O’Brien.

D65B424C51134D5DB2B17B25D045082CThe state is planning to close the large Beaumont Correctional Facility in Powhatan.

“These are two gigantic concrete maximum security prisons that house these young kids, and I tell you, you walk in and I don’t care who you are, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the injustice,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said last month.

The State plans to build a smaller correctional facility in Chesapeake, but not small enough, according to the rise for youth campaign.

“We want to task force on juvenile correction centers to consider other models to consider smaller homelike facilities preferably 25 beds or less,” Thomas explained.

The group is urging the state to consider a successful model in Missouri that works with troubled youth in small group homes and treatment centers located close to their families.

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“What we found is the Missouri model is more homelike. Kids wear their own clothes there is a lot more interaction between kids and their communities,’ Thomas said.

Three years after they’re release, nearly 70 percent of kids remain law abiding citizens under the Missouri model. In Virginia in 2015, more than 78% of the youth were re-arrested within 36 months of their time behind bars.

Andrew Block, Director for Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, has looked over the report and tells 8News, “we are also changing the way that we work with the kids in the facilities so that many more of our staff are now trained and trained to be part of treatment teams, so there’s a lot of agreement.

ED3EAAF258EE452EBF89D75646A4D3F7“I think there is also broad agreement on what the problems are, and we haven’t gotten the outcomes we need to get both for the young people we serve, the communities they return to and the taxpayers of Virginia.”

However, Block said a transformation to do better is underway. He says the new facility is Chesapeake will be smaller, with just 64 beds compared to the 284 beds now at Beaumont.

“Our transformation plan involves doing better work for kids, getting better safety outcomes in the community and dong better for Virginia’s taxpayers,” Block said.

Block also added that while the Missouri model has some positives, he says its does some things Virginia doesn’t want to replicate. For instance, he says they confine more kids for misdemeanors.

At one point, the State Department of Juvenile Justice and Governor McAuliffe proposed closing the Bon Air Correctional Facility in Chesterfield, but the General Assembly only approved funding for the closure of one facility.

State officials say for now, the Bon Air Correctional facility will remain open.

Stay with 8News for updates to this developing story.

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