The Department of Juvenile Justice operates and is responsible for the vast majority of local Court Service Units (often known as juvenile probation offices) across the Commonwealth, as well as the state-operated Juvenile Correctional Center, Bon Air. On any given day, the Department has somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 youth under some kind of supervision, with more than 90 percent of those youth being supervised in their communities through diversion, probation or parole.
The Department’s mission – to protect the public by helping court involved youth become productive citizens – is best accomplished through individually tailoring the right mix of accountability and rehabilitation to meet the identified risk and need levels for every youth who walks through our doors, and making sure that we use data, research, and evidence-based practices to inform the interventions and services we provide. We also best accomplish our mission when we provide the youth in our system with those things that any adolescent needs to grow into a healthy, productive adult.
DJJ emphasizes four cornerstones of positive youth development which include a feeling of safety in one’s surroundings, a strong sense of connection to one’s community and supportive family members and/or other adults, a belief in the purpose of activities such as education, treatment and vocational training or actual work, and a sense of fairness in the accountability, consequences and opportunities one receives in response to their actions.
Over the last several years, the Department has undertaken a rigorous self-analysis to make sure that we are using taxpayer resources effectively, and getting the outcomes we want for the youth, families and communities we serve. This analysis led us to develop an ambitious plan to transform our work to get better outcomes for the children, families and communities we serve. Our transformation efforts break down into three core initiatives: (1) Safely Reduce the use of the large and aging juvenile correctional facilities; (2) Reform correctional and treatment practices within the facilities and with youth returning to communities; and (3) Develop a plan to ultimately Replace DJJ’s two facilities with smaller, regional, and treatment oriented juvenile correctional centers and a statewide continuum of local alternative placements and evidence-based services.
Through a more effective approach to release decisions, the implementation of a new length of stay system, the continuing decline in new admissions, and the development of alternative placements for committed youth, DJJ has begun the process of safely reducing the population in its facilities. For example, DJJ partners with locally-operated juvenile detention centers to operate Community Placement Programs (CPPs) in local detention centers, allowing youth to be placed closer to home either as a step down from placement in a JCC or as an alternative to such placement. This reduction also makes it easier to reform programming within the facilities and provides opportunities to reinvest savings into more effective community alternatives.
In addition, we are examining probation practices across the state and making sure that our probation officers have the right tools and resources to make the best possible intake and diversion decisions and recommendations to judges, deliver the most effective services and interventions to youth under supervision, and serve as powerful and engaged partners with families, and public safety and child-serving professionals in their respective communities.
To work more effectively with youth in our facilities, the Department has developed, and is now rolling out, what we call the Community Treatment Model (CTM), a more rigorous rehabilitative approach to youth corrections that is based on successful work done in Missouri’s juvenile justice system. The CTM focuses on developing a consistent, rehabilitative community within each living unit in the facilities. By training an interdisciplinary cohort of staff, and placing them in a unit with a consistent group of youth, this model results in more rigorous rehabilitation and engagement throughout the day. Staff receive more training, work with the same youth each day, and work fewer hours each shift. DJJ expects full conversion by the end of 2016.
To further improve outcomes for the young people in our custody we are also improving our delivery of educational services in our facilities, and greatly expanding the level and variety of vocational training, certification, and post-secondary educational offerings including college classes.
In addition, during the fall of 2015 Virginia became one of only three states to receive a major federal grant ($725,000) to create a model reentry system. These resources will provide for increased training; transportation for families to visit incarcerated youth; new technology to improve remote contacts between staff, families, and confined youth; and the development of a new system to improve both planning and outcomes.
Finally, the Department is making more intentional efforts to engage the families of the youth in our system and help them become true partners in the rehabilitative process, which research tells us can help improve life outcomes for the young people we serve and reduce their likelihood of reoffending. These efforts will include, but not be limited to, different approaches to visitation at our facilities, helping provide transportation for visitation, making greater use of technology to connect families and children when the distances are too great to travel, and eventually developing peer networks of parents to support other parents whose children find themselves in our system.
Despite the heroic efforts of our staff, our current facilities with their size, age, design and location make it difficult to optimize our rehabilitative efforts with the young people committed to these placements. Ultimately, Virginia will have to replace them with smaller, treatment-oriented facilities and a range of community-based alternatives. While the Department is using operational savings to develop a statewide continuum of community-based alternatives, we will ultimately require additional funds to build the smaller, more geographically appropriate, facilities we need to one day replace our current correctional infrastructure.
In the meantime, we will continue to do all we can to improve our service delivery within the facilities and our development and use of the Community Placement Program and other alternative placements services across Virginia.