Youth activists oppose planned Isle of Wight juvenile detention facility

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A new group is joining the fight against a proposed juvenile detention center in Isle of Wight County, saying they are concerned the project isn’t “closer” to their backyard. 

At a meeting hosted by the Newport News Commonwealth Attorney’s Office Wednesday evening, RISE for Youth, a Richmond-based coalition that works to find alternatives to youth incarceration, laid out their concerns with the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice’s 60-bed facility planned for 20-acres southwest of Windsor. 

Related Coverage: Residents push back on proposal to bring juvenile detention center to Isle of Wight Co.

“That’s not, not a good model,” said Valerie Slater, RISE for Youth’s Executive Director. “The young people that are in the system right now? 40 percent of them come from Hampton Roads. And they are coming from Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton.”

The site of the budgeted $13.5 million facility is roughly 40-minutes away from those three cities. 

“Essentially what you are saying to young people is the only way you can find your path is to go far away from home, and we don’t agree with that,” Slater said. “While we agree with DJJ that therapeutic treatment is what is needed, smaller is what’s needed. Where we may be a little differing is what close to home looks like.”

Slater would rather see the facility placed in a community that actually has a juvenile justice problem. 

“When you put resources into the communities that need them you can transform the community along with the youth,” Slater said. 

Currently the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice has only one secure juvenile correctional center. It is based in Chesterfield, Virginia, roughly two hours away from Hampton Roads. 

“Proximity to home communities is a driving force behind our decision to build in Isle of Wight,” said Andrew Block, Jr., Director for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. 

He goes on to say the agency researched the entire region, looking for possible sites for this facility. The idea was originally planned for the City of Chesapeake, however, it was withdrawn after community pushback

“I would say (the location) is definitely a step in the right direction, but why should we settle for what’s OK when we can really work towards what is best?” Slater said, adding the local community of Windsor also has concerns.

Many residents expressed concerns about safety, property values and overall quality of life with the development of a “prison” in their community at a public meeting Monday.

Thursday, the Board of Supervisors may vote to transfer the land valued at $200,000 to DJJ and then contribute $500,000 to help with water and sewer infrastructure, according to the county.

Slater said she will be there.

“I hope the board either votes ‘no’ or defers the issue.” Slater said.

“We are confident in our plan, and that it will benefit the youth we serve in the new facility, the families who love them, and the community we become a part of,” Block said. “We have faith that common sense, not extreme and polarizing statements, will carry the day when it comes time to make a final decision.”

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Isle of Wight County Courthouse complex.

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