HD37 - The Study of Juvenile Justice System Reform
The rise in the incidence of violent juvenile crime in Virginia and across the nation has prompted many state legislatures to re-evaluate the premises and structure of the juvenile justice system in their states. In addition to an increase in juvenile crime rates, the service system for juveniles in Virginia has changed radically since the last comprehensive review of juvenile justice conducted in 1977. The establishment of a separate juvenile correctional agency, the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA), and the Virginia Juvenile Community Crime Control Act (VJCCCA) reflect some of the major structural and funding changes to Virginia's juvenile justice system in recent years. However, these reforms did not attempt to reassess the philosophy of the juvenile justice system as enunciated in the Code. HJR 604 had as its study mandate a comprehensive review of the system, encompassing purpose, structure, funding and dispositions available for specific juvenile offender populations.
The HJR 604 Task Force held six meetings between April 1st and December 31st. These meetings provided members with data analyses, legal research, and results of surveys of Virginia juvenile justice practitioners and the general public. Given the short timeframe to address a wide array of issues, the 22-member Task Force broke into smaller workgroups to allow greater attention to be devoted to each of the study's topic areas. The four workgroups held ten meetings at which specific areas of reform were identified and discussed. Commission on Youth staff researched professional journals and other states' statutes and conducted data analysis on juvenile crime trends and service delivery systems. This information was synthesized by the full Task Force, resulting in the adoption of 55 recommendations for improving the juvenile justice system in Virginia.
On balance, the Task Force affirmed the successes of the current juvenile justice system. Overall, Court Service Unit staff exercise appropriate discretion in their diversion decisions and work effectively with .other local human service agencies despite limited resources. Communities have developed innovative programs which respond to the diverse needs of their clientele. Staff in both secure and non-secure residential facilities intervene effectively in the lives of juveniles. Members of the judiciary make fair and sound decisions based on consideration of all the facts before them. Involvement of the private sector has served to expand the service options available to offenders and their families. While secure facilities in both community and institutional settings are dangerously overcrowded, front line and administrative staff are to be commended for continuing to provide meaningful interventions.
The problems identified in the juvenile justice system suggest recurring themes which the Task Force recommendations seek to address. The first is the absence of a comprehensive system of interventions to respond consistently and effectively at the early stages of problem behavior. Juvenile offenders develop over a period of time, providing indications of their future direction. Awareness of and responsiveness to the young person's behavior, including attendance in school and active parental involvement, could avoid later court involvement. The early intervention system of response must be strengthened and supported on both the state and local levels. The second theme, recidivism, indicates that the court gives too many chances and seems to wait until the offender's behavior escalates before meaningful sanctions are imposed. Clear, predictable consequences must be provided to the offenders and their families if the system is to maintain credibility with the public. The third theme relates to the lack of available counseling services at the community level, specifically for sex offenders, aggressive youth, and drug traffickers. Lastly, the quality of institutional services must be improved in order for those youth who are committed to the state to receive the sound therapeutic and educational services necessary to capitalize on their time of confinement.
The recommendations are offered as a means to move the state closer to realizing its ideal -- namely, to prevent young people from involvement with the juvenile justice system, but to provide them, once involved, with meaningful and predictable services which offer them the opportunity to reform and become productive citizens.
On the basis of its findings, the Commission on Youth offers the following recommendations in the areas of Truancy and Prevention, Court Services and Processes, Secure Facilities and Shelters, and Serious Juvenile Offenders.
TRUANCY AND PREVENTION
Increase the accountability for school identification of and intervention with truants.
Increase the sanctions for school non-attendance.
Implement truancy intervention programs in high-need schools.
Continue to support those prevention programs with positive evaluations.
Increase the collaboration and coordination between public and private sector prevention initiatives.
In deference to limited fiscal resources, target prevention initiatives to populations identified as being at high risk for delinquency.
Parents should be required to accompany their children to all court hearings.
Parents who refuse to comply with a court order should be held in contempt.
Failure of parents to supervise a minor should carry specific court penalties if the parents are unable to show they took reasonable steps to control the conduct of their child.
The court shall have the parent to pay for the programs and/or services which are included in a court order, based on its assessment of their ability to pay.
COURT SERVICES AND PROCESSES
The purpose and intent clause of Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court law should be revised to include as purposes "safety of the community" and "rights of the victim," along with the "best interest of the child and family."
Court intervention for all offenders who have been found guilty for domestic abuse or delinquency should have as a goal holding offenders accountable for their behavior.
Diversion from the juvenile justice system should be guided by public protection, as well as family preservation, goals.
Both the parties and victims in all Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court proceedings should be afforded fair hearings in which their constitutional and other rights are recognized.
Diversion from the filing of a formal court petition should occur only at the first contact with intake. All subsequent complaints for CHINSup and delinquency should be filed in petitions with the court.
A charge handled by Court Service Unit resulting in diversion should be formally noted on a juvenile's record and made available to other jurisdictions.
Each CHINS, CHINSup, and delinquent case seen at intake should be given a community sanction of restitution, community service or other services as determined by the Court Service Unit staff. This sanction should be developed after consideration of community resources and the nature of the event which brought the juvenile to court.
Court intake should be adequately staffed to provide a meaningful and significant court contact in every instance.
Status offenders, CHINS and CHINSup should remain within the jurisdiction of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, as well as human service and/or educational agencies.
Probation officers' caseloads should be lowered to support diversion work provided to status offenders, CHINS and CHINSup.
Community agencies to which non-delinquent youth are often referred should be funded adequately to provide necessary services to this population.
Victims of crime in Juvenile Court proceedings or their chosen representative(s) should have the right to be present at all phases of the court proceedings.
For cases in which a juvenile is charged with crimes of violence as cited in § 16.1-269.1 (B), the court should be presumptively open. The court on its own motion, or on the motion of the Commonwealth or defense, may, for good cause shown, close the proceedings.
A comprehensive study of current statutory provisions regarding confidentiality and release of information resulting in a coherent policy for the Commonwealth should be undertaken by the legislature, law enforcement, the judiciary, and relevant public agencies.
Newly developed juvenile tracking systems should have the capacity for cross-jurisdictional transfer of information.
Each Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court should conduct an analysis of their court docketing system, with the goal of instituting a docket management plan to reduce delays and provide increased predictability of court hearings.
Procedures addressing child endangerment and removal from the home in cases of suspected child abuse and neglect should be reviewed to insure that children are adequately protected.
SECURE FACILITIES AND SHELTERS
Support the expansion of community-based alternatives for youth who come before the criminal side of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
The Department of Youth and Family Services, with input from local providers, should exercise strong leadership in developing a continuum of services for juveniles ranging from least restrictive community-based services through institutional placement and supervised release.
Encourage communities to leverage formula funds to more adequately address their juvenile justice populations.
Statutory provisions which would increase the length of stay or eligibility criteria for secure detention placement should be enacted only if funding is made available for expansion of current secure bed space.
Develop a standardized assessment instrument to provide guidance for secure detention placement.
Increase the involvement of mental health services at a community level for court-involved youth.
Provide mental health screening and services, if indicated, for juveniles entering secure detention.
Implement a planning process for the piloting of a multi-use residential facility.
Adequately fund public and private residential programs to serve CHINS and CHINSup populations.
Outfit selected residential facilities to securely hold juveniles who are flight risks.
Require the Department of Youth and Family Services to address service needs for non-delinquent population in their statewide plan as required under § 16.309-4.
Probationary services should be adequately funded to allow for the provision of basic services to juveniles who come to the court.
Probation staff should be provided on-going training and skill development to enhance their ability to work effectively with the juveniles and their families.
Future Juvenile Correctional Center expansion should meet American Correctional Association standards for facility size.
The Department of Youth and Family Services, when building new facilities! Should seek to "decentralize" institutional site placement and strive for the even distribution of facilities across the state.
Juvenile Correctional Centers must be adequately staffed with treatment, educational, and security personnel, with clear delineation of tasks among these groups.
The Department of Youth and Family Services should designate one facility for placement of juveniles under the Serious Juvenile Offender Statute (§ 16.1-285.1) and develop specialized programming to meet the needs of this juvenile offender population.
The Department of Youth and Family Services should stress the importance of parole/aftercare .services through appropriate probation staffing levels in local Court Service Units.
Require state level interagency planning for at risk and troubled youth.
Establish an interagency data base to track juveniles' court contacts and service
Tie continued state funding for community services to evaluation of services by quantifiable objectives.
SERIOUS JUVENILE OFFENDERS
Indeterminate commitments to the Department of Youth and Family Services should not exceed periods of confinement for juveniles committed under the Serious Juvenile Offender Statute.
The Board of the Department of Youth and Family Services should establish written length of stay guidelines and provide for public comment to these guidelines.
Expand the eligibility criteria for the Serious Juvenile Offender Statute to include juveniles with a previous adjudication for a felony which carries a penalty of 20 or more years of confinement.
Expand the term of commitment under the Serious Juvenile Offender Statute to the juvenile's 25th birthday.
At the first annual review hearing after a juvenile committed under the Serious Juvenile Offender Statute reaches the age of 18, provide for the option of transfer to the Department of Corrections' Youthful Offender Program for completion of the term of confinement if the juvenile has not made progress during confinement in the Juvenile Correctional Center.
Provide an extended jurisdictional option to Circuit, as well as Juvenile, Court judges.
Require the Commonwealth's Attorneys to provide notice of the annual review hearings of juveniles committed under the Serious Juvenile Offender Statute to any victim(s) of the offense for which the juvenile was committed.