HD12 - HJR 113 (2008) Final Report: Study of Virginia's Juvenile Justice System

Executive Summary:
During the 2006 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, Delegate Brian Moran introduced House Joint Resolution 136 (HJR 136), which 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 within the juvenile justice system, quality of and access to legal counsel, accountability in the courts, and diversion. The Commission was also tasked with analyzing Title 16.1 of the Code of Virginia to determine the adequacy and effectiveness of current statutes and procedures relating to juvenile delinquency.

Because of the detailed information that was produced during the first two years of the study, an additional year was needed to fully examine the newly-identified issues in conjunction with the current matters cited in the initial resolution. The goals for the continuation of the study through 2008 included: ascertaining juvenile justice related training opportunities for Commonwealth's Attorneys and their assistants; examining the role of Commonwealth's Attorneys offices in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) courts; determining the training provided for intake officers; reviewing juvenile law training provided for circuit court judges; discovering truancy patterns and exploring Department of Education programs directed toward truancy issues; determining the number of juveniles identified as having mental health and/or substance abuse needs in detention centers and DJJ correctional facilities; monitoring juvenile justice legislation; re-entry back into the community; and creating a list of proven practices for Court Service Units.

During the 2008 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, the Commission was directed to continue its study of Virginia's juvenile justice system for a third year under House Joint Resolution 113 (HJR 113) as introduced by Delegate Brian Moran. Under this new resolution, the Commission was directed to continue to examine the issues outlined in HJR 136, as well as some additional concerns identified throughout the first part of the study. HJR 113 also incorporated House Joint Resolution 160 (HJR 160), introduced by Delegate Clarence Phillips, which provided for a two-year study of the juvenile justice system to: (i) review the severity of offenses committed by juveniles in the Commonwealth; (ii) evaluate the effects on the learning environment and educational process when juvenile offenders are returned to the public school classroom; (iii) identify and examine more effective methods of rehabilitating juveniles, particularly juveniles who commit serious offenses; and, (iv) recommend such changes as the Commission may deem necessary to provide a more effective juvenile justice system.

The Crime Commission utilized several research methodologies to address the directives of the mandates regarding the juvenile justice system in the Commonwealth, including: (i) completing a literature review; (ii) attending local, regional and national professional juvenile justice meetings and conferences; (iii) conducting focus groups of juvenile justice professionals; (iv) field visits to Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) courts; (v) surveys of key juvenile justice professionals; and, (vi) analysis of Title 16.1 of the Code of Virginia.

Legislative initiatives and best practice recommendations were presented and discussed by the Crime Commission at the October 14, 2008, December 9, 2008, and January 13, 2009, meetings. Commission members endorsed legislation for introduction regarding amendments to Title 16.1 during the 2009 Session of the Virginia General Assembly. Additionally, the study was approved for continuation for an additional year to devote attention solely to juvenile certification and transfer issues.