VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — There’s been a significant drop in the number of juveniles behind bars across the state of Virginia in the past few years.
In addition to a decrease in the number of juveniles seen at the state-operated juvenile correctional center, a lower number can also be seen at locally-operated juvenile detention centers in the Hampton Roads region.
The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) believes this trend started with the establishment of their Transformation Plan in 2015.
10 On Your Side takes a look that detailed plan and the way various services and programs implemented in local juvenile detention centers helped children and teens behind bars find their way out.
The Transformation Plan
The Transformation Plan was created over three years ago to ensure that the DJJ was using its resources effectively and providing the best outcomes for children and teens, according to the plan itself.
Before the plan, the DJJ spent a disproportionately large percentage of its budget to operate juvenile correctional centers that were outdated and oversized.
Since the reallocation of funds, outlined in the plan, the DJJ says the amount of programs available to help the youth in Hampton Roads area has gone up — and the number of them behind bars has gone down.
Research from the DJJ shows the daily population in the juvenile correctional centers has gone from an average of 466 in 2015, to 216 in 2018.
Pete Withers, Superintendent of the Virginia Beach Juvenile Detention Center, says Virginia has gone from seven, state-operated juvenile correctional centers to one in Chesterfield County.
Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center holds about 300 juvenile inmates. It’s located approximately two hours away from Hampton Roads.
Despite heavy pushback from the community, in a 3-2 vote, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors approved the transfer of 20 acres of farmland for the juvenile correction center. The vote allows the county and Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice to begin negotiating on a final development agreement.
Out of the 24, locally-operated juvenile detention centers in the state, there are four that serve the Hampton Roads area – one in Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, respectively.
Juveniles from further up on the peninsula are sent to Merrimac Juvenile Detention Center in Williamsburg.
“There’s 24 juvenile detention centers that are locally-operated facilities that have a capacity of about 1,400 kids. On any given day, we used to see that number of kids, but now we see about 600 kids that are detained in these facilities,” said Withers.
Withers believes they’re closing the revolving door by getting to the youth’s root issue with their various re-entry programs.
“There’s a number of resources and money that we’re able to invest in the programs because the Department of Juvenile Justice has closed a number of juvenile correctional centers around the state and have been able to reinvest that money into local community programs.” Withers said.
The DJJ’s Community Placement Program provides an alternative for court-involved youth in need of secure placement that keeps them close to home.
The program includes everything from substance abuse counseling, to barber classes and even college courses.
“I’ve been in this business a long, long time. This is the best thing we’ve ever done,” Withers explained.
According to Withers, the Virginia Beach Juvenile Detention Center is the only one in the state that has college professors coming into the facility full time to teach classes.
“When I came in here, I didn’t know what to expect. The program…it showed me a lot of stuff. It showed me a lot of things that I didn’t open my eyes to when I was outside,” said Matthew Magana, an inmate at the Virginia Beach Juvenile Detention Center. “It’s taught me to take advantage of what I have, the opportunities that they give me.”
Another juvenile inmate, Bryant Page, feels like being in the program has changed him for the better too.
“It’s like, I really didn’t understand my feelings and how to cope with my feelings, and since I took anger management and substance abuse, I really know myself now and it’s easy for me to identify and cope with it,” Page explained.
Now, Page says dreams that originally seemed out of reach to him, feel attainable.
“I want to have my own record label, I want to have an electric company or construction company and I want to own a barbershop,” Page said with a smile.
Withers says five years ago none of these opportunities existed for the juvenile inmates.
Faces Behind the Impact
The District 4 (Norfolk) Court Service Unit is state-operated and helps serve the Norfolk Juvenile Court system by offering community resources to at-risk youth and their families.
Director of District 4 (Norfolk) Court Service Unit Theresa McBride believes the transformation is about making sure that the right youth gets the right intervention at the right time.
“They come into our doors — we’re making an assessment from the very beginning, making a determination of what would be the right fit for this child. What would be the appropriate intervention for this child,” explained McBride.
WEB EXTRA: Full interview with Theresa McBride
With the savings from facility closures, the DJJ has been able to expand the service network through contracts with Regional Service Coordinators.
Ernest Madison represents the nonprofit organization AMIKids as one of two Regional Service Coordinators for the Eastern Region that the DJJ has been contracting with for the past two years to help build a range of services across the state.
“I make the process simple. We coordinate services being placed for the kids that are coming through the system on probation or on parole, to make it easier for the probation officer to access the service,” Madison explained.
AMIKids works with contracted providers, like the DJJ, to deliver an array of services for at-risk youth, including, new evidenced-based services. Their goal is that no matter where a youth goes in the court system, they have access to the same base-level of services.
WEB EXTRA: Full interview with Ernest Madison
Through the work of Regional Service Coordinators, like Madison, evidence-based services formed to help at-risk youth, such as Multisystemic Therapy and Functional Family Therapy, have been implemented.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an intensive, family and community-based treatment program designed to make positive changes in the various social systems including home, school, community and peer relations. These are believed to be contributors of the serious, antisocial behaviors of children and teens who are considered at-risk.
Multisystemic Therapy Clinical Supervisor Shaena Wiggins says she’s noticed a large, positive impact since their services began.
“MST has been in this area since October 2017 and with all of the participants and families we’ve had so far, all of our statistics have been within the eightieth percentile, which means that 80 percent of our juveniles are still at home when they’re discharged from our program,” Wiggins explained.
She says they’ve seen tangible results.
“We have had cases where they’ve successfully completed their G.E.D. and have actually started college classes,” Wiggins stated.
WEB EXTRA: Full interview with Shaena Wiggins
The other evidence-based service, Functional Family Therapy, is a short-term treatment that is built on a foundation of respect of individuals, families and cultures.
It includes powerful treatment strategies that are designed to pave the way for motivating individuals and families to become more adaptive and successful in their own lives.
Lacrezia Jackson works with the Western Tidewater Community Services Board as a program manager for Functioning Family Therapy.
“What we do is we help the family look at the glass as half full. So many families that we work with, they’ve been burned by the system, they’ve been beat down, so they don’t see what their strengths are,” Jackson explained.
WEB EXTRA: Full interview with Lacrezia Jackson
The Tidewater Youth Services Commission is another public agency that works with at- risk youth throughout Hampton Roads. They provide everything from prevention to treatment services, which include both residential and nonresidential programs.
“Our residential services include group homes that can be used as emergency shelter for youth, also some long term group homes placements on average four to six months that would assess and then address the issues of the youth and the family — everything directed towards the goal of reuniting the youth with their family with the skills and abilities they need to be successful, “said Tidewater Youth Services Commission Executive Director Shawn Sawyer.
WEB EXTRA: Full interview with Shawn Sawyer
For more information about the DJJ’s community programs, visit their website.