HD7 - Virginia Juvenile Justice System

    Executive Summary:
    House Joint Resolution 136, introduced by Delegate Brian J. Moran and passed during the 2006 Virginia General Assembly Session, directed the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the Virginia Juvenile Justice System over a two year period. Specifically, the Commission was to examine recidivism, disproportionate minority contact with the justice system, improving the quality of and access to legal counsel based on American Bar Association recommendations, accountability in the courts, and diversion. The Commission was also to analyze Title 16.1 of the Code of Virginia to determine the adequacy and effectiveness of Virginia’s statutes and procedures relating to juvenile delinquency.

    In the first year of the study, Commission staff collected national and state literature and data regarding an overview of juvenile justice issues, obtained background research materials and preliminary statistics, and met with professionals in the juvenile justice field. Sources reviewed include the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and the American Bar Association. Staff members attended a seminar sponsored by Department of Criminal Justice Services to ascertain current information on disproportionate minority contact in the Juvenile Justice System and also attended the 30th Fall Juvenile Justice Institute sponsored by Virginia Juvenile Justice Association. Additionally, Crime Commission members have been briefed on some of the issues raised in the resolution by Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Virginia’s Criminal Sentencing Commission.

    A review of both the Virginia’s Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (VACJJ) and the American Bar Association (ABA) juvenile justice reports was also completed. Based on the VACJJ’s 2004 annual report, the Commonwealth’s juvenile justice system faces a challenge regarding disproportionate minority contact. According to VACJJ, although only 23% of the juvenile population are minorities, minority offenders comprise 38% of intake offenders, 45% of intake and technical and delinquent offenders, 50% of secure detention admissions, and 66% of commitments to juvenile correctional centers. Additionally in 2002, the ABA and the Mid-Atlantic Defender Center asserted that there is a need for quality legal representation in delinquency proceedings. This was related to the timing of appointment of counsel, uninformed waiver of counsel, lack of public defender offices in some localities, untrained and inexperienced counsel, lack of ancillary resources, and the perception that juvenile court was viewed as a “kiddy court.”

    States across the nation are experimenting with new policies and efforts to minimalize juvenile crime and detention. In Virginia, localities address juvenile justice in different ways, some potentially more effective than others. Next year, staff plans to complete an analysis of the extent of disproportionate minority contact. If the analysis reveals that there is a systemic failure, recommendations will be made to address it.

    Staff will consult with the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission (VIDC) regarding Virginia’s certification procedures for court appointed attorneys and the number of attorneys currently certified to handle such cases. Staff will also consult with the Virginia Supreme Court and the VIDC to determine the rate of compensation paid to court appointed attorneys who represent juveniles and the cost of indigent defense to the Commonwealth. A series of questions will be developed in order to obtain information about the compensation paid to court appointed counsel in the neighboring states of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland. Results will be evaluated and compared to those paid in Virginia.

    The Crime Commission plans to create a work group of Juvenile and Domestic Relations district court (JDR) judges, who will be selected based on regional considerations. Approximately eight JDR judges will be asked to participate in the creation of a statewide JDR judicial survey instrument and to discuss juvenile access to counsel and quality of representation in Virginia’s juvenile justice proceedings. The availability and effectiveness of current diversion opportunities available to juveniles will also be reviewed and discussed and if needed, recommendations for additional or alternative remedies will be made. Included in the survey will be questions regarding disproportionate minority contact, analysis of Virginia’s statutes and overall perceptions of Virginia’s juvenile justice system. Results will be analyzed by region, population, and juvenile crime rate. Both the work group and survey results will provide information as to the adequacy and efficiency of the juvenile justice system, as well as strategies and programs designed to improve the functioning of the juvenile justice system.

    Also during year two of the study, staff will conduct a comprehensive analysis of Title 16.1 to determine the adequacy and effectiveness of Virginia’s statutes and procedures relating to juvenile delinquency.

    As this is the first year of the study, the Crime Commission does not intend to submit a report for publication. The second year of the study will conclude with a final report and recommendations.