RD644 - Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Transformation Plan 2021 Update
Nearly seven years ago, Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) set out to rethink how the agency can best serve youth. What had been a system reliant on detention, incarceration, and punishment could transform into a system of rehabilitation, personalized treatment, and community support with the right investments. With the General Assembly’s support, DJJ released a Transformation Plan in 2016 to reallocate resources to a wider range of rehabilitative services. By closing facilities and investing in more community-based, therapy-centered approaches that require less funding, DJJ reinvests funding back into the continuum of services. The plan aimed to use evidence-based practices to more effectively serve youth, their families, and communities, centering around three core operational strategies: (1) reduce the use of juvenile correctional centers by transforming intake, probation, and commitment practices; (2) reform supervision, rehabilitation, and treatment practices for youth in custody; and (3) replace large, outdated juvenile correctional centers with support from a statewide continuum of alternative placements and evidence-based services. A new goal of (4) sustain was later added to focus on continuing progress toward the transformation goals.
Since launching the plan, DJJ has achieved progress and successes in all four goals of the Transformation Plan. Fiscal year (FY) 2021 provided several accomplishments discussed throughout this report, including the following highlights:
• The juvenile justice system is experiencing all-time lows, and the impacts of COVID-19 accelerated these trends even further. Between FY 2014 and FY 2021, juvenile intake cases decreased 59.1%, probation placements decreased 68.3%, detainments decreased 63.8%, and direct care admissions decreased 55.3%.
• DJJ remains committed to successfully diverting more youth from further system involvement. Due to COVID-19, juvenile intake cases decreased even more in FY 2020 (14.4%) and FY 2021 (38.8%) than in each of the previous five years (2.1% to 9.5%), and the decrease was even more substantial for diversion-eligible cases. Meanwhile, the number of diversion plans increased from 13.0% of intake complaints in FY 2014 to 19.4% in FY 2020, then decreased to 14.9% in FY 2021 due in part to fewer diversion-eligible cases.
• DJJ’s efforts continue to show a reduction in rearrests for youth with system involvement (i.e., first-time diversions, probation placements, and direct care releases), with the 12-month rate decreasing from 25.1% in FY 2014 to 15.8% in FY 2020, translating to 1,670 fewer youth rearrested. While the rearrest rate has consistently decreased since FY 2014, the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the juvenile justice system likely contributed to the steeper decline in FY 2020.
• Re-arrest rates for first-time diversions continue to steadily decrease. Rearrest rates for probation placements and direct care releases also decreased in FY 2020 for all risk levels, after fluctuations throughout transformation efforts. These higher risk youth continue to face significant challenges and require more intensive and therapeutic services. The interpretation of these promising rates across the system during COVID-19 is challenging due to the pandemic’s impact on the juvenile justice system as a whole, so future trends may fluctuate as the pandemic wanes.
• DJJ continues to offer a wide array of community-based services across the Commonwealth. DJJ’s continuum of services has over 140 distinct direct service providers; 1,429 youth were referred to DJJ’s regional service coordinators, who approved/authorized 2,843 services during FY 2021.
• Court service units are partnering with external researchers and experts to improve the integration of Risk-Needs-Responsivity and positive youth development approaches for supervising and serving youth as well as improve outcomes through diversion programs, family engagement, and restorative justice.
• An increasing percentage of youth in direct care are being placed in non-correctional center options. July 2021 marked DJJ’s highest reported proportion of youth in alternative placements (47.3% of the total direction care population). Almost half of youth (45.4%) released from direct care in FY 2021 received treatment in these types of placements instead of a juvenile correctional center.
• Treatment and programming at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center continues to focus on skill building, improving behaviors, and increasing youth’s likelihood of successful transitions to the community upon release. Staff trainings include such topics as specific treatment service delivery, improving the therapeutic and trauma-informed environment, and collaborating with non-JCC placement options.
• The therapeutic Community Treatment Model and other programming improved youth and staff safety. Between FY 2016 and FY 2021, rates of aggressive incidents at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center decreased 76.6%, workers’ compensation claims decreased 74.0%, and costs associated with workers’ compensation claims decreased 71.0%.
• DJJ is focused on trauma-informed care and reducing punitive measures that have negative effects on youth. DJJ continues the Reducing Isolation in Youth Facilities initiative to develop a tangible plan to reduce punitive isolation and develop alternatives to isolation even as COVID-19 requires social distancing measures.
• As the Division of Education transitioned to an online environment, it used a new virtual platform to enable students to take breaks from classes, decreasing disruptive behavior and increasing students’ autonomy. As a result, 70.6% of class breaks were proactive checkins initiated by students.
• 34 students at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center completed high school credentials (high school diploma or GED® certificate). 80% of eligible high school seniors graduated in the 2020-2021 school year.
• Alternatives to correctional centers for treatment placement option for youth in direct care continue to expand, now including nine community placement program sites, nine detention reentry programs, 12 residential treatment centers, and 15 group homes, for a total of 45 non-correctional center treatment placement options for youth. Of the 207 youth released from direct care in FY 2021, 94 (45.4%) did not enter a JCC.
• DJJ continues the pursuit to build smaller, treatment-oriented facilities, ideally in the eastern and central areas in order to house youth closer to their home communities. Efforts have shifted to initial construction in the Central Region as we continue to seek a site in the Eastern area of the state.
• DJJ sustains increased communication with families and provides networking opportunities for families through the Family Support Network and the Family Engagement Committee’s work. Visitation was suspended for much of the fiscal year due to COVID-19. When visitation was reinstated, it was done outside and with Center of Disease Control (CDC) approved mitigation measures. More emphasis was placed on creating enhanced phone and video visits throughout.
• DJJ continues to sustain and utilize evidence-based practices through the Regional Service Coordinators’ Service Delivery Model, with 696 billed services for Functional Family Therapy (FFT) or Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) in FY 2021.
• Court service unit staff have received training on various standardized tools to assist with decision-making as well as an improved Basic Skills for Caseworkers virtual program.
• In a cross-divisional effort to sustain training and implementation of the evidence-based Aggression Replacement Training (ART), four DJJ staff completed train-the-trainer curriculum and have delivered virtual sessions. With greater collaboration, more divisions will utilize ART principles.
• DJJ’s Division of Education continues to focus on delivering high-quality educational services, with 92.1% of teachers being properly licensed and endorsed.
• DJJ’s Training and Organizational Development Unit utilizes online platforms to increase engagement and capacity for training programs offered to DJJ employees.
• Many of DJJ’s operational and transformation plans had to be modified due to the COVID19 pandemic, including in-person school, family visitation, group treatment services, and staff trainings.
• Free transportation services to Bon Air for visitors continues to be halted.
• In response to the recurrent threat to health and safety, Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center offered four vaccination clinics on-site; approximately 497 doses were administered at the Bon Air clinics, including 54 residents who chose to receive a vaccination.
DJJ is moving forward with efforts that continue to align with the Transformation Plan. In particular, DJJ focuses an increasing amount of effort on sustaining the changes implemented and continues to invest in resources such as training opportunities and leadership development. DJJ also continues to focus on delivering high quality and effective services for youth and families that are equitable and responsive to their individual needs and circumstances.