RD194 - Post-Dispositional Detention Utilization Report

Executive Summary:
Throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and indeed throughout the nation, the population of residents in local juvenile detention centers (JDCs) and state-run juvenile correctional centers (JCCs) has been declining. There are many potential explanations for this trend, and scholars are not in agreement as to what factors have had the most impact.

As a result of this trend, local JDCs in Virginia have consistently operated at or below 60% capacity for several years. In an effort to have a positive, long-term impact on the lives of youth involved in the juvenile justice system and make efficient and cost-effective use of available space in local JDCs, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia commissioned a study of post-dispositional (post-d) detention programs currently operating in localities throughout the Commonwealth.

This study was mandated as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget. The specific provision requiring the report is as follows:

"408. G. The Department of Juvenile Justice shall review current practices in the post-dispositional detention program and consider potential options for expansion of the program, including incentives for increased participation by local and regional juvenile detention facilities and increased use of detention beds for holding state-responsible juvenile offenders as an alternative to the use of state facilities. Copies of the review, including any suggested legislation, shall be provided to the Secretary of Public Safety and the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees by September 1, 2013."

The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) convened a Legislative Study Group (Study Group) to conduct the study, prepare the specified report, and make recommendations based on its review of current practices and services and evaluation of the future of post-d detention programs and potential additional uses of available space in local JDCs.

The Study Group, comprised of various juvenile justice stakeholders throughout the Commonwealth including DJJ personnel, court service unit (CSU) directors, detention superintendents, and a JDC post-d coordinator, made the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Do not expand post-d programs or extend the length of stay in post-d programs at this time.

One potential strategy proposed in the General Assembly was to expand the number of post-d programs in operation and/or extend the length of time a youth can be committed to a post-d program.

A major characteristic of the current status of juvenile programs in Virginia is the downward trend in juvenile facility populations. This serves as an indicator that expanding post-d programs and extending the length of programs is not warranted at this time. This recommendation is consistent with the position of the Virginia Council on Juvenile Detention (VCJD), an organization whose membership consists of the directors/superintendents of all 24 JDCs in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Post-d programs currently in operation already serve the majority of post-d-eligible youth in the Commonwealth. A survey of stakeholders indicated that a majority are opposed to expanding post-d programs at this time, particularly if there is no allocation for additional funding (See “Survey Results,” Section VII). The localities and commissions that operate the JDCs cannot absorb the additional costs associated with expanded post-d programs under their current funding structures.

A further finding of the survey was that a major effect of extending the length of post-d detention up to 12 months would be that fewer youth would be served in such programs. This outcome would be the opposite effect of what the General Assembly is seeking to accomplish.

Recommendation 2: Prior to considering changes in the length of stay or expansion of post-d programs, fund an evaluation of currently operating post-d programs to identify best practices, strengthen current programs, and provide a model program guide to assist in the development and implementation of new programs.

The study further highlighted that post-d programs currently operating in the Commonwealth provide a wealth of effective, evidence-based programming that enables youth to receive vital services such as mental health (MH) assessment and care, drug and alcohol counseling, anger management counseling, life skills training, and employment skills training as well as to continue or complete their formal education through high school diploma and General Educational Development (GED) programs. They are given the opportunity to engage in these activities in the safe environment of the local JDC.

Virginia’s post-d programs do an excellent job of serving the needs of youth in their care, particularly given that there is no separate funding stream for post-d programming. These programs are funded primarily by the localities and commissions that operate the JDC.

Individual post-d programs have, on their own initiative, had their programs evaluated for effectiveness. However, there has not been a comprehensive study of the effectiveness of post-d programs statewide. Nor is there a manual of “best practices” for the operation of a post-d program. Before any expansion is considered, these measures should be in place to provide a framework for new programs seeking to begin post-d detention programs and a guide for current programs to use in maintaining their already high level of effective service.

Recommendation 3: If expansion takes place, adequate additional funding is an absolute necessity for the programs to be successful.

Local JDCs provide a wide spectrum of services on behalf of youth in the Commonwealth. This programming is currently provided within the operational budgetary structure of the local facility. Post-d programs are not funded by DJJ or other state agencies. Any expansion of the post-d program must be funded by a new, consistent revenue stream over and above current funding.

The Detention Block Grant, which initially provided approximately 50% of the operational budget for the JDCs, now provides only 37% of such funding. It is anticipated that as operational costs continue to rise, the percentage of revenue provided by the Commonwealth will continue to fall.

The localities and commissions do not have the budgetary flexibility to absorb the additional costs that would be associated with expanding post-d programs. Those costs are discussed in the “Financial Impact Data” section of this report.