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Del. Ken Plum: Justice for Juveniles

by Del. Ken Plum — December 17, 2015 at 1:30 pm 11 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I often quote from papers written by the staff of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis; they provide the most fact-based, nonpartisan, clear analysis of key issues facing Virginians.

Recently, I attended the 2015 Policy Summit held by the Institute in Richmond. Topics at the Summit included the declining state support for public schools in Virginia, accessing health care, and returning more money to the working poor through the Earned Income Tax Credit. One topic around which there seems to be a high level of political consensus developing was “Criminal Justice Reform: Opportunities to Save Money and Help Communities.”

In a paper published by The Commonwealth Institute, it was reported that Virginia keeps more youth incarcerated than most states. As of 2013, for which the most recent federal data is available, Virginia incarcerated 79 youth in state facilities for every 100,000 youth age 10 or older living in the state. That’s 75 percent higher than the national rate of 45 state incarcerated youth per 100,000 youth in the country.

But that does not mean that Virginians are safer or that more youth are diverted from criminal behavior. In fact, the opposite is true. According to data from the Department of Juvenile Justice, almost three-quarters of youth who have been held in the state’s juvenile prisons are convicted of another crime within three years of release. Of great concern is the fact that youth who are held in the state’s youth prisons for longer periods of time actually have higher rates of re-arrest within a year of release than youth who are held for shorter periods of time!

Virginia’s current youth prison system consists of two youth prisons, Bon Air and Beaumont, in the Richmond suburbs. More affluent areas like Fairfax County have established local alternative programs. The highest rates of commitment to the state youth prisons come from the localities that have the highest poverty levels. As the Institute reported, “not only is Virginia’s current system not working to rehabilitate youth and keep communities safe, it is also very expensive. The per capita cost of incarcerating youth in Virginia’s juvenile correctional centers was $148,214 in FY 2015.” Local programs are lower in cost as well as more effective at reducing recidivism.

Efforts have been underway to reform the current system for a number of years, but that movement needs to be accelerated. Wealthy communities are way ahead in establishing treatment programs, but these programs that are effective in keeping children out of trouble in the future must be extended to all localities regardless of wealth.

The state must resist any effort to dump the problem on localities without providing necessary funds to make alternative programs available. The pipeline from school to prison must be shut off. Alternative solutions that include intensive treatment for offenders and families can keep the community safe, rehabilitate young people before they become criminals, and save money.

There is widespread bipartisan agreement that progress needs to be accelerated in this area. It will bring justice to juveniles.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Rehabilitation is the key. Unfortunately, very little of that takes place in the jails. Jails are about punishment, not rehabilitation.

    The most difficult thing facing most of these kids is that, even after they have served their time — even if you actually did “rehabilitate” them — the vast majority go back to the crappy home environments and the crappy communities from which they came. Once back home, they just fall back into the same old behaviors.

    Until the homes and communities are fixed, the threat of incarceration is only a coercive measure to adhere to societal norms. We would be far wiser spending our money on providing positive community and home supports.

    • meh

      I’d rather throw more money into planned parenthood and improving the social views of contraception. Most of these youths come from homes that can not support the child academically, financially or spiritually.

      When Tyreke runs off on LaShawnda and she has to work 3 shifts at the diner to pay for her extensions, the kid(s) have no chance. They then grow up angry at the world and act out. It’s no shock that they wind up in jail…..

  • Bruce Grande`

    Free Summer camps and After school daycare will keep kids out of trouble! What a terrific idea! This will also give parents more time to hang out at home and play video games and have fun. Can the state just go that last mile and provide an over night service so the kids can sleep some where else? I also think we need a service for weekends and holidays so we can go out and have fun with out worrying about kids.

    • Chuck Morningwood

      They do provide such a round the clock service. It’s called “Foster Care”.

  • Idea
  • Ming the Merciless

    According to data from the Department of Juvenile Justice, almost three-quarters of youth who have been held in the state’s juvenile prisons are convicted of another crime within three years of release.

    Which tells you they should have been kept in prison even longer.

    Of great concern is the fact that youth who are held in the state’s youth prisons for longer periods of time actually have higher rates of re-arrest within a year of release than youth who are held for shorter periods of time!

    Gee, could it be that the yoots who were held for a longer period of time actually committed more serious crimes, and were therefore the type of person one would expect to commit another crime after getting out?

    • Chuck Morningwood

      Interesting thought, Mung. Stick a kid in a change, treat them like an animal for years on end, and then expect them to behave like model citizens when they are released in their early adult years.

      Something just seems, well, incongruous about that penal philosophy,

      • Ming the Merciless

        The philosophy of the author of the post is “don’t put criminals in prison”, which normal people find incongruous and insane. The alternative approach is called “protecting the public from vicious thugs”. It is not difficult to understand, and has a proven track record of success.

  • Mike M

    Some inconsistency in the arguments presented:
    1) We save money by not incarcerating youth so long? Yet the “wealthier” communities approach should be extended to the rest of the state? So, are we really talking about savings? How about some dollar values? We have to spend money to save money? How much to spend, Ken? How much would we save? I’m thinking you really aren’t about saving money at all. So why introduce it into your argument. Maybe we should look at ways to spend less on jailing the lil creeps?
    2) Longer incarceration makes for high rate of recidivism? Shorter incarceration makes for slightly less? So, does it follow that we should not incarcerate at all? I don’t buy that trajectory’s validity? I know this: When they are in jail, they aren’t preying on your contituents.

  • TheRealODB

    Nothing Ken likes better than spending other people’s money.

  • mike

    Abolish plea bargaining and the ‘school to prison pipeline’ will come to a screeching halt. Plea bargaining is the real problem and we must insist on our original bill of rights to the following justice system. Not ‘bargaining away’ our freedom and jailing children.

    “All people are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of peers.”

    Article 4. Right of search and seizure regulated

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
    papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,
    shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon
    probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly
    describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to
    be seized.

    Article 6: Right to a speedy trial, witnesses, etc.

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the
    right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the
    State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,
    which district shall have been previously ascertained by law,
    and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to
    be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory
    process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the
    assistance of counsel for his defense.

    Article 7: Right to a trial by jury

    In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall
    exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be
    preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise
    reexamined in any court of the United States, than according
    to the rules of the common law.

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