Here are past events and articles from our site.

Historic Report Available Now

Families Propose Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice

cover of Families Unlocking Futures report

On September 10, 2012, Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth was part of an exciting event — the release of a historic report by and about families of youth in the justice system.
"Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice" is based on more than 1,000 surveys and 24 focus groups with families of youth who have been in the justice system — including dozens of Virginia families.

The report shows the many ways juvenile justice systems have failed youth, families and communities. It also proposes solutions for transforming youth justice to help our youth succeed and keep our communities safe.

Among the findings:
  • Families want to be involved when their child gets in trouble. 91% of the family members surveyed said that courts should involve families more in decisions about what happens when a youth is found delinquent. Unfortunately, more than 80% also said they were never asked by the judge what should happen to their child.
  • Families want to be part of the solution on a policy level as well as for their own children. An overwhelming 92% of families surveyed said that families should be part of policy discussions and decisions about how juvenile justice systems work and what kinds of programs are available.

The full report and a shorter executive summary are available online from the Justice for Families web site. Please read and share this information widely. Let's get more families and community members involved in the movement to transform youth justice!

As Grace Bauer, Justice for Families co-director, said during the report release event on Capitol Hill, "Families are best source of quality control for the juvenile justice system that we have."

The General Assembly and You
Photo of Virginia State Capitol building
Virginia State Capitol  photo by Jim Bowen via Wikimedia
The General Assembly works for you. They are our state legislators. Let them know where you stand! 

The General Assembly session started on January 9, and will end February 23. Things are moving quickly!

  • The bad bills that expand how youth are tried as adults and that put more kids on sex offender registries were NOT introduced this year!  For years, they have come back like zombies, but our successful efforts to kill them last year seem to have paid off this year.
  • Quite a few good bills have been filed. See below for some key bills we support.
  • SB928, patroned by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel: This bill will make sure kids with mental health problems have a better chance of getting their treatment needs met in their local area instead of being sent to a DJJ youth prison. 
  • SB863, patroned by Sen. Barbara Favola and HB1743, patroned by Del. Bob Brink: These bills would enable foster care youth ages 18-21 released from DJJ to have access to independent living services.
  • Bills from the Educate Every Child Campaign, patroned by Del. Roxann Robinson:
    • HB1864 restores discretion to school-based administrators for deciding when to report misdemeanor offenses to law enforcement.
    • HB 1866 -- rolls back zero tolerance and removes non-gun weapons from mandatory expulsion provisions.
    • HB 1867 -- rolls zero tolerance and restores disciplinary direction to school-level administrators for drug offenses.
There are also good bills on these topics:
  • reducing prison phone rates (HB1854 - Hope),
  • writs of actual innocence (HB1308 - Habeeb, HB1919 & HB1920 - Herring, HB1355 - Morrissey, SB823 - Alexander),
  • modifying sentences of people sentenced to life as juveniles (SB808 and SB809 Marsden),
  • considering minors engaged in prostitution as children in need of services (SB1149 - McEachin and HB1991 - McClellan), and
  • expungement of misdemeanors (HB1925 - Ware, HB1675 - Johnson and SB725 - Black).
  • Stay tuned for action alerts!

The Legislative Information System is the official website for information on bills, Virginia law, and many other useful links for the General Assembly:

The Virginia General Assembly has its own website, which is newly updated:

The Virginia Public Access Project ( has a good web-based Citizen's Guide to the General Assembly, with tips on making your voice heard and visiting the Capitol.

Finally, Voices for Virginia's Children ( has some excellent advocacy tools on their website, including a Legislative Advocacy Guide (pdf) and a fact sheet on how a bill becomes law in Virginia (pdf).

Families & Allies "Occupy"
Board of Juvenile Justice

     "Don't throw away the key, you see, it's me," the poem began.  "Educate me instead of condemning my life."  That plea came from a young person who was formerly in Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center.  Heather, a mother from Northern Virginia read the poem to members of the Board of Juvenile Justice at their April 11, 2012 meeting as part of our "Occupy the Board of Juvenile Justice" event.

children show art in support of their incarcerated brother
  A diverse group of families and community members from around the state participated in the special evening meeting.  Our goal was to bring Board members the perspective of families and youth most affected by the juvenile justice facilities that they oversee.  People made statements and read poetry, and volunteers read the words of people who could not attend in person.

     Some of the families and youth spoke of the "trials and tribulations" of being locked up or having a child in the system.  As one mother wrote in a poem, "My son was locked up for many years.  To explain it all would bring many tears."
Some of the families

     Another youth wrote about feeling like a caged animal while in detention.  "As time fly past/Your girl don't last/Your brain die fast/You start to figure out your friends ain't really your friends."

     Several speakers encouraged the Board and Department of Juvenile Justice to emphasize education. This will be especially important as the Department of Correctional Education merges with the Department of Juvenile Justice in July.
a parent speaks to the Board of Juvenile Justice

     Our efforts had an almost immediate impact.  As the Board members deliberated during the rest of the meeting, they referred to some of what they had heard from the families and community members.

Who Would You Throw Away?
Alternating photos of three smiling young people
embers of Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth stand up for kids in Virginia's justice system.  These are young people who are too often forgotten, or worse: thrown away.

Please join us as we advocate for them to have a better chance of becoming successful adults.

In 2012, we are launching our Families Speak Out campaign to organize families, youth, and concerned community members into an even more effective force for change. 

You are the key to our success.  Please join us with a membership donation today!

Study Finds Youth Prisons "No Place for Kids"
Photo of boy asleep on prison bed. Credit Steve Liss
photo by Steve Liss
The following is adapted from a news release by the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center:

On October 1, in a report to the General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) recommended opening more beds in juvenile correctional centers.

Advocates representing youth and families criticize Virginia’s prioritization of incarcerating youth in centralized youth prisons over alternatives that will better help youth successfully return to the community. They point to the fact that over-reliance on incarceration drives up costs and does not improve public safety. Over half of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget -- about 114 million dollars – was spent on secure custody last year.

On the heels of the DJJ report, on October 4 the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its report No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration. The report is the most comprehensive recent analysis of research and new data on the effectiveness and costs of juvenile incarceration.

The report finds that there is overwhelming evidence that the wholesale incarceration of juvenile offenders is a failed strategy for combating youth crime.

“Nearly 70% of the youth released from Virginia’s juvenile correctional centers in 2006 were convicted of another crime within three years. If we really care about improving public safety, we should stop spending so much on an incarceration model that does not work” says Kate Duvall, an attorney with JustChildren, a program of the Legal Aid Justice Center.
“At a time when other states are closing secure facilities, the Department of Juvenile Justice’s request to open more beds in large correctional centers is a move in the wrong direction.”

Liane Rozzell, founder and Executive Director of Families & Allies of Virginia’s Youth, states, “Incarcerating youth does not rehabilitate them. Families want to see programs that will help youth turn around and lead successful lives. Virginia can do more to invest in proven, local programs and keep more youth out of incarceration in large, remote youth prisons.”

The following recommendations made in the report should be adopted in Virginia to enhance public safety and save taxpayer money:

1.    Limit incarceration to youth who have committed serious offenses. Virginia has already proven that it can invest in this kind of effective alternative to incarceration without threatening public safety. In July 2000, the criteria for commitment to a juvenile correctional center was changed from a felony or two class one misdemeanors to a felony or four class one misdemeanors. There has been no increase in juvenile crime since that time. In fact, between FY 2006 and FY 2010, intake cases decreased by nearly 11,000 cases, a 17% reduction. The number of felony intakes decreased the most dramatically, by 28%.

2. Invest in alternatives. In particular, Virginia should consider investing in proven alternatives to incarceration such as Multisystemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy, and reentry programming like a detention reentry program or increased capacity in the already established Work Education Release Program.

3.    Replace large institutions with small, treatment-oriented facilities for serious youth offenders. Virginia currently has six juvenile correctional centers. Five of these are located in the Richmond area, a considerable distance from some youths’ families and community ties.

2011 Juvenile Correctional Center Utilization Report

No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration

Facts & Recommendations on Virginia's Overuse of Youth Prisons

Board Meeting and Classification Update

On September 27, FAVY and JustChildren representatives asked the Board of Juvenile Justice to act on our petition to amend the regulations on classification for youth in DJJ facilities. The Board voted not to do this. However, this is not the end of the story!

The regulation we were asking to change has actually not come into effect in its final form, due to controversy over the protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth that the Board included. If they were to act now, the Board could only amend the PREVIOUS regulations, not the ones that are just about to be in effect. So the timing is off.

Once the new regulations come into effect, we can petition the Board to amend those regulations so that DJJ creates a better classification system.

Thanks to the FAVY members who were able to join us and many others who sent comments, the Board is very aware that there is high public interest in this issue, and the Board chair commented on that.

We have done well! We will keep standing up for our youth!

  Learn more about the new DJJ classification system and our recommendations by downloading this fact sheet.

Board of Juvenile Justice Affirms Protecting LGBT Youth; Classification Action Still to Come
The Board of Juvenile Justice is holding a special meeting on Wednesday, June 29 at 4 pm to consider two things:

1. The new classification system for youth in Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities.
2. Keeping their proposed regulations that would protect all youth in residential facilities from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The meeting will be held at 700 East Franklin Street, 4th Floor, Richmond, Virginia.

Through a
citizen petition submitted by Kate Duvall, we are asking the Board to amend the regulations so that the classification system is fair and based on research.  Meanwhile, we are asking the Board to require DJJ to stop implementing this unfair and unwise new classification system for young people in Virginia's youth prisons.  This new classification system is NOT based on any research, and it will unfairly keep kids from progressing to better programs (like work release) through good behavior.

We Spoke, Board of Juvenile Justice Listened — and Acted!

On June 8, we spoke out at Virginia's Board of Juvenile Justice meeting.  We joined with other advocates to express deep concerns about the Department of Juvenile Justice's new classification system for kids in Virginia’s youth prisons.  As I noted in my testimony, the new system is unfair, unwise, and unauthorized.

In light of the issues we raised, the board asked the Department of Juvenile Justice not to finish implementing the new system until they have a chance to review it.  The board will schedule a meeting soon to take up the matter.

News coverage of the meeting included an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and an  Associated Press article.

The board considered another important issue as well.  The board is finalizing new regulations for juvenile correctional centers, detention centers and group homes.  Last year, we asked the board to include protections so that youth in these facilities would not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are especially vulnerable to assault, harassment and discrimination in youth prisons and detention facilities.  The board and Department of Juvenile Justice agreed to add these protections to the proposed regulations.  However, this language was removed when the regulations went to the executive branch for review.  At yesterday’s meeting, the board voted to keep these protections.

Here’s some of the news coverage on this issue:  Associated Press: Va. juvenile justice board bans gay discrimination  

Washington Post: Va. juvenile justice board backs ban on sexual orientation discrimination

Youth prisons don't work.
There Is a Better Way!

Learn about the Missouri Model.

Virginia's juvenile correctional centers teach young people how to be better prisoners.  This does not prepare them for a positive future.

There is a better way to help youth in the justice system become successful adults.  It has been around for decades, and it works! 
A few weeks ago, I visited one of Missouri's juvenile justice facilities.  What I saw and heard from the youth there was amazing.

Unlike kids in Virginia's youth prisons, youth in Missouri's secure facilities are not treated like prisoners.  There is no lockdown, or use of isolation cells at all.  The staff are not guards; they are youth workers with college degrees in social work, psychology and so forth.

The kids live together in small groups of 8-12 in a safe, homelike setting.  A positive peer culture helps youth succeed, and they work hard to deal with the reasons that they ended up there.  They don't just change their behavior, they change their thinking. 

The results are dramatic.  Three years after they complete parole, 67% of youth released from Missouri's facilities have avoided further involvement with juvenile justice or adult corrections. 

Compare that with Virginia, where 70% of kids released from our juvenile correctional centers are re-convicted of a new crime within 3 years of release. 

Clearly, the youth prison model isn't working.  Missouri has a better way, and they've been doing it since the mid-1970s.  We need to keep advocating for Virginia to move away from the failed youth prison model to something like Missouri's approach.

Here's how you can learn more about the Missouri model:

*  Read the most recent report or summary on the model.

*  Visit the Missouri model web site and/or the Missouri Division of Youth Services web site for more info and some video links.

Families Speak Out!
Northern Virginia Family Focus Groups
      A dozen family members who have had youth in the justice system joined us for two focus groups in Northern Virginia during May.
      They shared their experiences with the justice system as part of a national effort to create a report about how the justice system can better help families and youth.  Justice for Families is leading this project.  Families & Allies is one of several family organizations that are partnering with Justice for Families on this important effort.
     The next step in this grassroots research effort will be surveys of families who have had youth involved in the justice system.  Northern Virginia families who did not participate in the focus group will have a chance to take part in the survey process this summer.

New DJJ Visitation Policy 
For several years, Families & Allies members have asked for a better visitation policy for youth in Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities.  We have especially asked for kids to be able to get visits from people who don't fit the narrow definition of "immediate family" in DJJ's official visitation policy.  
     Some families got exceptions to the official policy, but the exceptions just showed that the written policy needed to be changed.  It wasn't clear how to get an exception, and many families and DJJ staff did not even know exceptions were possible.
     Our advocacy has paid off!
    In mid-March, DJJ put out a new visitation
policy that clearly says that youth in the juvenile correctional centers can get visits from adults who are extended family members or who have a strong relationship with the young person.  The policy spells out the process for getting such people added to the visitation list.
     Thank you to everyone who has spoken out about this, and who has shared your visitation concerns.  It made a difference!
     Now we need to make sure that the process is implemented correctly.  If you still have a visitation issue, please contact us so we can help resolve it and track how the new process works.

General Assembly Update
The Virginia General Assembly session ended the last weekend of February.  We were pleased that some bills that would have expanded juvenile transfer to adult court were defeated.  We fought hard for two positive bills that passed the Senate but did not make it past the House of Delegates.

Here's a summary from the Don't Throw Away the Key blog:
  • SB 914 (McDougle) was defeated in the Senate Courts Committee.  This bill would have made it easier to try more youth as adults in Virginia and further limited judicial discretion over this very important decision.  This bill was recommended by the Virginia State Crime Commission to the General Assembly.  Its defeat is a huge accomplishment and will prevent many youth from entering the adult criminal justice system. Congratulations on this great achievement!
  • SB 822 (Edwards) passed the Senate but was ultimately unable to pass the House Courts Committee. This bill would have given youth the right to appeal a prosecutor’s decision to try them as an adult. Thank you to all of you who supported this bill by making phone calls, sending emails, or attending a hearing. A special thank you to former Director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Barry Green for emphatically testifying in support of this bill in the House Courts subcommittee.
  • SB 914 (Howell) passed the Senate unanimously but was pulled by the patron before a vote was taken in the House. This bill would have allowed Circuit Court judges to grant youth a juvenile adjudication upon successful completion of probationary terms set by the judge.  The fact that this bill was not voted down in the House will make it easier to potentially bring it again in the future.
  • HB 1980 (Greason) never received a hearing in the House. This bill would have expanded the categories of automatic transfer and prosecutorial certification by adding conspiracies and attempts to commit the violent juvenile felonies listed within each category.

Thank you for your continued support of these reforms! Be on the lookout for more opportunities to take action in the future!

We Told the Crime Commission:
Don't Throw Away the Key!

Families and community members turned out for a key Virginia State Crime Commission meeting on December 8.  After two years of studying Virginia's system of trying youth as adults, the Commission voted on recommendations for changes.

The Commission voted to give Circuit Court judges the power to give youth a juvenile adjudication rather than an adult felony conviction.  Adult felony convictions result in loss of voting rights, and barriers to jobs, among other consequences.  A juvenile adjudication does not create the same obstacles to success. 

Commission members stressed that the juvenile adjudication could only take effect after a youth completes his or her sentence, including probation or parole. 

The Crime Commission decided not to endorse a bill that would allow youth to appeal the prosecutor's decision to try him or her in adult court.  We support that bill.

Also, the Crime Commission endorsed a bill that will increase the number of youth eligible for transfer to adult court automatically or by prosecutor's decision.  We oppose this measure.

The Crime Commission's actions are not the final word!  We will continue to work on these issues during the upcoming General Assembly session. Watch this space for updates.

Learn more about youth being tried as adults from the Don't Throw Away the Key campaign, a joint project of the Legal Aid Justice Center and Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth.

Great Turnout for Crime Commission Meeting

September 8 was a great day!  We showed the Virginia State Crime Commission members that families and community members care about yo
uth being charged as adults, and want the system to change.  

Thanks to everyone who spoke and who attended in solidarity!

Kate Duvall from JustChildren writes,"There was a lively and informative discussion of the issues at the meeting. We would like to specifically thank the following advocates who spoke in favor of reform: W.E. Clark, III, Walter Fore, Lauren Whitley, Lillie Branch-Kennedy, Mollyna Ellerbe, Al Simmons, Andy Block, and Yvonne Byrd.  We would also like to thank the Virginia Bar Association’s Commission on the Needs of Youth and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association for their remarks in support of increased judicial discretion."
The Crime Commission staff's report, which they presented, is on their web site, or you can download a pdf here.  The Richmond Times Dispatch also covered the event.

Next up: the Crime Commission staff will present additional information at the December 8th meeting.  Also at that meeting, the Crime Commission will vote on their recommendations to the General Assembly.  We'll need to keep up our presence to demonstrate the need for changes to the laws about youth being tried as adults.  So mark your calendars now:

December 8, 10 am
Senate Room A
General Assembly Building
9th & Broad Streets
Richmond, VA

The event will be part of a National Week of Action on juvenile justice!

Don't Throw Away the Key!
Crime Commission Meeting September 8

Trying youth as adults hurts our youth and our communities!  Come to the Crime Commission meeting to show your concern!

It's back to school time for kids, and back to advocacy time for us all on September 8th, when the Virginia State Crime Commission meets in Richmond!

Here's a little pop quiz.  The answers are farther down the page.

Out of every 100 youths convicted in Virginia's adult courts from 2000-2008, how many were convicted of murder?                                                                         _ 75       _ 50         _ 27          _ 6

Out of every 100 youths convicted in Virginia's adult courts from 2000-2008, how many were sentenced only to probation?
 _ 8        _ 15         _ 20        _ 38

And how many were given a juvenile sentence only?
 _ 12        _ 23        _ 47        _ 65

On September 8, the Virginia State Crime Commission will meet in Richmond.  At this meeting, the Crime Commission staff will present their study of Virginia's system of trying youth as adults and recommendations for legislative change. 

The staff will probably also make recommendations about two bills from last year’s General Assembly session.  These bills were carried over and sent to the Crime Commission for further study. One of the bills, SB 205 sponsored by Senator Edwards, would greatly improve Virginia’s system of trying youth as adults by limiting prosecutors' discretion. However, the other bill, SB 389 sponsored by Senator McDougle, would result in more youth being tried as adults for less serious crimes. 

Please join us at this meeting if you can.  Your presence will let the Crime Commission members know that families and community members care about youth who are being tried as adults. The meeting will be on Wednesday, September 8 at 10 am in the General Assembly Building, Senate Room A, 9th and Broad Street, Richmond, VA.  Bring friends and family.  Please use this flier as a reminder and to spread the word!

There will be an opportunity for public comment after the staff’s presentation. If you are interested in giving public comment, please consider using these talking points as a guide.

Hope to see you there!

And now for the answers:

Surprisingly, only 6 out of every 100 youth convicted as an adult was convicted of murder.  Meanwhile, 20 out of every 100 were sentenced to probation, and 23 were given only juvenile sentences!  But each of those 43 youth still faced the barriers of an adult felony conviction — barriers to getting a job, voting and student financial aid.

The numbers show that our system of trying youth as adults is too broad, and jeopardizes the future of young people who can still turn their lives around.

Learn more about Virginia's transfer system in the report Don't Throw Away the Key: Reevaluating Adult Time for Youth Crime in Virginia, found on the Don't Throw Away the Key website's resource page.

Community Forum in Richmond
Don't Throw Away the Key Forum on July 22

Has anyone you know served or been threatened with adult time for a juvenile crime?

How well is the justice system serving our youth and communities?

What can we do to change the system?

The Don't Throw Away the Key campaign seeks youth and families who have been impacted by the justice system to come and speak out at a community forum on Thursday, July 22, from 6:30-8:30 pm at the Church of the Holy Comforter, 4819 Monument Avenue in Richmond.

Through the Don't Throw Away the Key campaign, we are working to reduce the number of youth who are sent to the adult criminal system. 

Putting youth in the adult court system makes communities less safe.  Please join us at this important meeting, and lend your voice to the effort!  Bring friends and family, and please use this flyer to spread the word!

Youth and GANGS
Norfolk/Hampton Roads Group Meeting June 17

The Norfolk/Hampton Roads Families & Allies group will meet on Thursday, June 17 to learn more about gangs and gang prevention.  The guest speaker will be Bill Emery, who does gang prevention work through the Virginia Gang Prevention Programs. 

The meeting will be held from 6 – 7:30 pm at the Lafayette Branch Library, 1610 Cromwell Drive in Norfolk.  Use the flyer at the bottom of the page to spread the word!

Youth PROMISE Act Video Launches
"Citizen Co-Sponsor" Campaign
On May 26, supporters of the Youth PROMISE Act launched a viral video to enlist "Citizen Co-Sponsors for the bill.  In the words of the youthPROMISEaction web site, "The Youth PROMISE Act (HR 1064/S 435) is bipartisan legislation that will give our communities the support and funding they need to effectively address youth violence issues. By specifically focusing on violence prevention and intervention strategies, this bill ensures we are funding programs that save lives and give every young person the opportunity to meet his or her potential."

This is a very important bill. Please take a moment to visit, become a Citizen Co-Sponsor, and tell your legislators to support the bill.

What Happens When
Youth Are Involved With
The Juvenile Court?
Norfolk/Hampton Roads Group Meeting May 22
The Norfolk/Hampton Roads Families & Allies group will meet on Thursday, May 22 to learn  more about how the juvenile justice system works.  Special guests Assistant Public Defender Linda McCausland and Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court Intake Officer Pete Smith will give presentations and answer questions.  The meeting will be held from 6 – 7:30 pm at the Lafayette Branch Library, 1610 Cromwell Drive in Norfolk.  Use the flyer at the bottom of the page to spread the word!

The Norfolk/Hampton Roads meetings started in 2009.  Highlights this year included a video screening of the film "Close Tallulah Now!" about the successful campaign to close Louisiana's worst youth prison and start reforming that state's juvenile justice system.  Guest speaker Grace Bauer, a former organizer with Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), inspired the group with the story of how families took on Louisiana's political establishment to create a better justice system for their children.

We Stood Up!
Families, Advocates Speak on Proposed DJJ Regulations

On Tuesday evening, April 6, family members and advocates, including students, converged on Richmond for the third annual Board of Juvenile Justice evening public hearing.   The group included people from Norfolk, Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, the Northern Neck, and the Richmond area.  The Board of Juvenile Justice began holding evening public meetings in 2008, after Families & Allies members asked for a meeting that more family members could attend.

This year, the meeting provided an opportunity for people to comment on the Board's proposed new regulations for juvenile correctional centers, secure detention centers,  group homes and halfway houses.  Several people raised concerns about the proposed regulations.  Among other things, they asked that the regulations:
    • Ensure that youth in facilities have access to legal help;
    • Clarify the need for prompt notification of parents in the event of a serious incident;
    • Address the issue of sexual victimization and abuse by adopting recommended national Prison Rape Elimination Act standards;
    • Allow youth in correctional centers to have visits from people outside of their "immediate" family;
    • Require detention centers to get health history and medication information from families immediately upon a youth's admission
    • Mandate that facilities pro-actively invite parents/guardians to staffing and treatment team meetings.

At the regular Board of Juvenile Justice meeting the next day, Department of Juvenile Justice staff said they will summarize all the public comments that they have received and prepare an agency response for the Board to discuss at its next meeting on June 9, 2010.

Board of Juvenile Justice to Hear Public Comments on Revised Regulations for Juvenile Residential Facilities

This is a chance to make your voice heard on how DJJ regulates its juvenile facilities!

The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is revising its regulations on juvenile detention centers, juvenile correctional centers, and group homes and halfway houses.  The Board of Juvenile Justice will hold a hearing for public comments on the revised regulations on Tuesday, April 6, 2010, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the General Assembly Building at 9th & Broad Streets, Richmond, VA.

To read more about the proposed regulations, visit the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall page about the meetings.

Also, on Wednesday, April 7, 2010, the Board will allow for additional public comments during its regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at 10:00 AM at the Department's Central Office building at 700 Centre, 700 E. Franklin Street, Richmond, VA, Second Floor Conference Room.

All comments should be submitted to Ms. Deborah C. Hayes no later than Friday, April 2, at 700 E. Franklin Street, Richmond, VA, or you may bring 15 copies of your comments with you to the hearing.

Virginia General Assembly Considers Juvenile Justice Bills

The Virginia General Assembly session started January 13th, and will continue through March 13th.  State senators and delegates have introduced a number of bills that could affect the juvenile justice system and youth involved in it.  The action is fast and furious, with daily changes.  Here are some ways to keep up with what's happening:

Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth has a page on Richmond Sunlight that lists bills we are tracking.  You can click on bill titles to get more information and to see and leave comments.  Richmond Sunlight is a good resource for looking up and tracking bills and learning about the General Assembly. 

The Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center blog reports on bills and other juvenile justice-related items.  Using the category tags, you can also see MAJDC's advocacy positions on some bills.

The Don't Throw Away the Key campaign web site has updates and action steps on bills relating to youth being transferred to the adult justice system.

For the most up-to-the-minute bill status, see the General Assembly's Legislative Information Service site.  It has just about anything you need to know about the General Assembly.  You can also check the dockets (schedules) for the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and the House Courts of Justice Committee, where most juvenile justice bills are first considered.

You can find out who your state senator and delegate are on the Virginia General Assembly's "Whose My Legislator?" page.

Big Turnout for Crime Commission Meeting!

Dozens of people turned out for the Virginia State Crime Commission meeting on December 15th.  Many came by bus from Norfolk and Northern Virginia, and were joined by allies and advocates from Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Hanover, Petersburg and Richmond.

As expected, the Crime Commission members said they won't recommend any changes to the law until they get more information.  After Department of Juvenile Justice Director Barry Green made a compelling case for some changes now, Delegate Dave Albo declared that there is "zero point zero percent chance" of any changes to Virginia's transfer laws coming through his committee in the House of Delegates next year. 

We held a press conference afterward, and noted that there is "zero point zero percent chance" that we will give up on this issue!  Special thanks to the following family members and concerned community members and advocates who commented: Almeta Harrington, Patricia Beck, Eileen Grey, Yvonne Byrd, Hannah Coltrain, John Morgan, W.E. Clark, and Walter Fore.

Media coverage included these stories:

Parents Seek Juvenile Justice Changes, NBC 12, December 15, 2009. This story links to a poll question about whether it's too easy for youth to be tried as adults in Virginia.  Please vote "yes" in the poll! .

Virginia panel hears about juvenile justice disparities, ‘sexting’ laws, Richmond Times Dispatch, December 16, 2009.

Don’t Charge Juveniles as Adults, Advocates Urge, Virginian Pilot, December 16, 2009.

Va Crime Panel Extends Juvenile Justice Study, Associated Press, December 15, 2009.

State Lawmakers Stuck on Juvenile Courts, NBC 29, December 15, 2009.

Thanks again to everyone who worked on this effort!

Natural Bridge Juvenile Correctional Center Closes

This minimum security facility has closed, due to state budget cuts.  Youth at the facility were moved to other, more secure facilities.  For more information, go to our blog site.

You can also post messages to a forum that one of our members has created so that people can keep in touch with the situation:

Rep. Bobby Scott, Dwayne Betts Speak to Overflow Crowd in Richmond

About 250 people attended R. Dwayne Betts' reading and book-signing event at the Library of Virginia the evening of August 12.  Special guest Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) talked about ways to reduce youth crime by spending money on prevention and early intervention instead of on incarceration.  He told how the Youth PROMISE Act will help communities to make these smart-on-crime choices.  For more information, see Rep. Scott's web page on the Youth PROMISE Act.

Author and poet Dwayne Betts spoke eloquently and read from his book, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.  He received a standing ovation.  Dwayne's book exposes the complex realities of adult prison as experienced by a teenager who grew to manhood inside them.  Last night, he noted emphatically that prison did not shape him into the man he is today.  Today's USA Today had an article on him and a video of him reading some of his poetry.

At the reception after Dwayne's talk, several people donated copies of his book for incarcerated youth to read, and many signed up for information about our "Don't Throw Away the Key" campaign to reduce the number of young people sent to the adult criminal system.

Earlier in the day, Dwayne spoke with youth in the Richmond Detention Center and in Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center.  At Beaumont, about 38 youth from the maximum security side of the facility listened intently and asked Dwayne insightful questions.  Families & Allies members and others donated or pledged money, and we were able to give 15 copies of Dwayne's book to the libraries at Beaumont!  

We're planning to give additional copies to the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Home ("Landmark"), where Dwayne was held before he was moved to the adult system, and half a dozen to Culpeper Juvenile Correctional Center, where many of the young men have been tried as adults.  With multiple copies at a facility, several young people can read the book and discuss it together.

Thanks to all who donated and also all who attended the event! 

Norfolk Community Youth Justice Jam Is A Huge Success

Young people holding a "Don't Throw Away the Key" sign at the Community Youth Justice Jam in Norfolk.  At right is poetry winner Richard Love.

The Community Youth Justice Jam in Norfolk on July 24th was a great success.  About 200 people of all ages attended and heard a panel of juvenile justice reform experts, including a local juvenile court judge, public defender, and a prosecutor.  One of the major topics was the transfer of young people to the adult criminal system.

The prosecutor, Linda Bryant, said that their office is looking closely at how they transfer youth to the adult system, and will no longer use the threat of transfer as a way to get kids to plead guilty in juvenile court.  Later this year, an expert on adolescent development will train the entire Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney's office.

A very lively poetry competition followed the panel discussion, with young poets performing poetry with the theme of justice.

The Virginian-Pilot reported on the event.  Thanks to all who participated in the event!

Crime Commission Update

The room was packed for the Virginia State Crime Commission's June 25th meeting to hear speakers on Virginia's process of trying youth as adults.  At least three dozen of those who attended were community members and families wearing stickers with the slogan "Don't Throw Away the Key!" as a sign of their concern about youth tried as adults.

The meeting featured a presentation on teen brain development by Vincent P. Culotta, Ph.D.  He stressed the need for a separate justice system for youth, based on scientific findings.  

Meredith Farrar-Owens of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission showed startling numbers on youth convicted in circuit court (adult court).  From fiscal year 2001 to 2008, 4,591 young people were convicted as adults for acts they committed while they were under 18.  In FY 2008, 697 were convicted.  This did not include the number who were charged as adults and found not guilty or had their charges dismisssed.

Finally, Crime Commission staff member Holly Boyle gave an update on the Commission's study of transferring youth to the adult criminal system.  She noted that juvenile court judges, public defenders, circuit court judges and court services unit directors all overwhelmingly (73-80%) favor allowing juvenile court judges the sole discretion to transfer youth to the adult court.  Not surprisingly, the Commonwealth's Attorneys did not agree, since this change would mean that they would lose the sole discretion to transfer for certain offenses

Several media outlets covered the event.  Here are links to the coverage.

State Reviews Number of Juveniles Convicted as Adults - WVIR -TV
Crime Panel Discusses Juveniles, Sex Offenders - Associated Press
Crime Commission Gets Juvenile Justice FactsWBBT-TV
Virginia Crime Commission to Take Up Juvenile Justice Issues - The Virginian-Pilot

We Stood Up For Youth and Families!

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and about three dozen family members, concerned community members, and other advocates attended an evening public hearing held by the Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice.  Eleven people took the opportunity to speak to the Board members and DJJ staff who were present. 

We asked the Board to adopt regulations that will help families support their children so that they have a fair chance to grow into responsible adults.  Here's a one-page summary of what we asked for.  Or read the5-page full version of our request.

A lot of people don't believe families or communities care when our children are locked up.  We showed that we do care!  Thanks to everyone who attended, and especially to those who spoke out.

Families & Allies Executive Director Awarded Soros Justice Fellowship

The Open Society Institute awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship to Liane Rozzell, Executive Director of Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth.  She is one of 17 fellows who received the awards.  The 18-month fellowship will enable her to focus on building Families & Allies into a sustainable and effective force for reforming Virginia's juvenile justice system.  Read the full news release for more about the fellowships, or go here to read about Liane and her Soros Justice Fellowship project. [Photo © Open Society Institute.]

Families & Allies Founder on the Radio

Liane Rozzell, Executive Director of Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth, was a guest on "Charlottesville—Right Now! with Coy Barefoot."  Listen to the podcast here.