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Legislators plan to reform Virginia's juvenile justice system

According to state legislators, the juvenile justice system in Virginia needs some major improvement. Gov. Terry McAuliffe's administration is working on a plan to reduce the number of juveniles in Virginia's aging juvenile justice facilities and keep juveniles closer to home by keeping them in local lockup instead.

One major cause for concern in Virginia is the high recidivism rate amongst juveniles. The likelihood that a Virginia juvenile convicted of a crime will re-offend within three years of release is near 80 percent. In addition to lowering this rate, authorities are focused on juvenile crime and keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system. Some say that the threshold for felony larceny (currently $200 in goods) should be increased to $500.

Another concern is that Virginia criminalizes many normal teenage behaviors. Data from the Department of Education shows that from 2013-2014, many law enforcement referrals were for assault without weapons, threats and drug and alcohol possession. However, this data only includes the mandatory reports that schools were required to file. Some experts say that too many students are referred to law enforcement for minor offenses including disorderly conduct. Many of these referrals do not lead to arrest or jail time. Nearly 11.5 percent of young people were put in jail for a misdemeanor, but they all had a prior record. The Department of Juvenile Justice statistics for fiscal year 2015 show that robbery, assault and burglary are the most common offenses amongst young people.

It is the hope that Virginia legislators will be able to make changes to the state juvenile justice system that will benefit everyone.

Source: Daily Press, "In Virginia criminal system, and schools, a push for juvenile justice reform," Travis Fain, Jan. 7, 2016

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