Virginia is the worst in the nation for referring students to law enforcement. During the 2014-15 school year, Virginia public schools issued over 126,000 out-of-school suspensions to approximately 70,000 individual students —an increase over 2013-14 figures, after at least four years of decline.
In addition, students of color and students with disabilities were disproportionally suspended. Students who are suspended from school are more likely to experience academic failure, mental health problems, substance abuse, gang activity, and justice system involvement.
Senate Bill 995(Stanley) – We supported this bill that originally redefined long-term suspension from 11-365 days to 11- 45 days. We continued to support it after concessions were made to extend the number of days to 60 school days and exceptions for certain school-based offenses.
Result: This bill was defeated in the House on a 39 -56 vote, see you next year!
House Bill 1534 (Bell) – Originally identical to SB 995, the bill was amended to extend to 90 school days but did not allow for the days to be extended into a new calendar school year.
Result: This bill was left in Senate Education and Health committee, which means that it died.
Senate Bill 997 (Stanley): We supported this measure to protect our youngest children in school from long-term suspension and expulsion for students in pre-k to 5th grade. After various substitutes, the bill would have allowed for suspension up to 10 school days for children pre-k to 3rd grade and granted exceptions to suspend longer for “260G offenses” defined in the Code of Virginia.
Result: This bill was defeated on the House floor on a 46 – 50 vote, see you next year!
House Bill 1536 (Bell): Originally identical to SB997, the bill would have allowed for up 5 school days for children pre-k to 3rd grade.
Result: This bill entered into conference (when the Speaker and Lt. Governor appoints a small committee made up of House and Senate legislators to resolve disagreements on a particular bill) but no further action was taken, essentially killing the bill.
Voices will continue to work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline. If you or your organization wants to get involved, please contact Allison at email@example.com and follow our juvenile justice work page.
We believe the current juvenile justice system’s use of large juvenile prisons does not make our communities safer or rehabilitate our youth, and the current system does not use best practices to put youth on a path toward law-abiding lives. The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice is making strides to transform this system for those reasons. Along with the RISE for Youth Coalition we will monitor how funds might be used to construct more juvenile detention facilities and advocate for those dollars to be reinvested to in community-based alternatives. Check back here for weekly updates.
In addition to transforming the juvenile justice system, we believe that we have to stop the funnel of children entering the system by dismantling the school to prison pipeline. Virginia is the worst in nation for referring students to law enforcement. During the 2012 – 2013 academic school year 27,568 students were suspended and of that 16,019 were elementary school students. In addition, students of color and students with disabilities were disproportionally suspended. Students who are suspended from school are more likely to experience academic failure, mental health problems, substance abuse, gang activity, and justice system involvement, according to research.
The Advocacy day for Rise for Youth was Monday, January 18th. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam hosted us for a kick-off breakfast. Members of the coalition and youth directly impacted by the juvenile justice system shared their experiences with the general assembly and asked specifically for money saved from closing youth prisons be reinvested into a continuum of alternative services. Youth highlighted positive experiences at organizations like Art 180, that work with teens in the juvenile justice system, in partnership with Legal Aid Justice Center, to connect the dots between creative expression and advocacy.
Voices will support these three bills from our partners at Just Children:
Reduce the maximum length of a long-term suspension:House Bill 1534/Senate Bill 995 – This bill would reduce the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current grading period unless aggravating circumstances exist and prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current school year. Senate Bill 995 went back to subcommittee for a second review, passed unanimously, and will be heard in the full Senate Education and Health.
Prohibit schools from suspending or expelling students solely for disruptive behavior: House Bill 1535/Senate Bill 996 – This bill would make it so that no student can receive a long-term suspension or expulsion for disruptive behavior (ie. talking loudly, sleeping, phone ringing, etc.) unless such behavior involves intentional physical injury or credible threat of physical injury to another person. Senate Bill 996 went back to subcommittee for a second review and was then stricken by request of of the Patron. HB 1535 was layed on the table at the request of the Patron.
Prohibit students in preschool through fifth grade from being suspended or expelled:House Bill 1536/Senate Bill 997 – This bill would prohibit students in preschool through grade five from being suspended or expelled except for drug offenses, firearm offenses, or certain criminal acts. Senate Bill 997 went back to subcommittee for a second review and passed (4-1). It will be taken up in full Senate Education and Health.
Item 132 #1h – Comprehensive Evaluation of School Discipline Practices – This amendment provides $50,000 the second year from the general fund to the Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of restorative practices and other similar approaches used by Virginia school divisions to address school discipline, school-based arrest, and school climate issues.
Item 415 #1s – Department of Juvenile Justice – This amendment acknowledges the closure and sale of Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center.
During the 2016 Virginia general assembly legislative session Voices and our partners successfully advocated for the closure of Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center (one of the two remaining large juvenile prisons in Virginia) and a concerted investment in a continuum of rehabilitative, restorative alternatives to incarceration. Nearly a year later, a plan has been released for a new youth justice center in Chesapeake with discussions of a possible second facility in Hanover. However, as Virginia faces a budget shortfall the continuum is at risk.
Voices serves as a steering committee member on the Rise for Youth Coalition, anonpartisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration. In August, after the release of the Department of Juvenile Justice’s task force report, Voices spoke out about the importance of reinvesting the dollars saved from closing the correctional centers into a continuum of services. Voices has also added a page dedicated to all of the juvenile justice related issues we are working on including but not limited to the DJJ transformation and the school to prison pipeline.
Youth prisons not only fail our young people, they may cause harm. The report states that “these facilities provide too many of the elements that exacerbate the trauma that most confined youth have already experienced and reinforce poor choices and impulsive behavior. Maltreatment is endemic and widespread.” Instead of getting these youth back on track, they are often removed from their communities and enter into a facility that exacerbates the factors that brought them into the system. Patrick McCarthy, an advocate for youth prison reform, recounts his first time entering a juvenile corrections facility:
Kids in sweats, many with holes. Kids in shackles and handcuffs. Mace on the belts of the uniformed guards. A row of isolation rooms, every one with the face of a young boy in solitary confinement, staring out of a narrow window. The air dripping with pervasive stress, fear, anger and tension and a sense of imminent violence.
Continuum of Services: An Alternative Approach to Incarceration
Creating a continuum requires investment into community services in all regions such as: day programs, mentor/tracker services, re-entry programs, mental health treatment, counseling (both in home and on site), recreational therapy, anger management and parenting classes. In addition, the continuum could include service learning opportunities where youth learn skills that will help them successfully transition to adulthood and lead safe and productive lives. The Rise for Youth coalition supports this concept stating, “community-based alternatives to incarceration must include nonresidential, community-based services that serve youth and their families in their homes and communities, not in isolation, and are proven more effective in reducing recidivism”. The continuum would work in coordination with the Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, and Educational systems.
The financial costs of serving youth in a correctional facility is enormous.
It costs about $148,000 per youth to keep them incarcerated in one of the state’s two large juvenile prisons. However, if we invest into the continuum, for example, a program of comprehensive nonresidential accountability and treatment services, plus a specialized education program, could cost just $40,000 per youth for a year of services (The Commonwealth Institute). You can read a breakdown of financial savings in the new report on pages 12 – 14.
The report recommended a “Four R” strategy: reduce, reform, replace and reinvest. It is critical that as Virginia’s juvenile justice system transforms we do not lose sight of the reinvestment.
This is the time to let the state legislators who are responsible for developing the state budget know that children are our priority! They need to hear from us about why it’s important to support services for children in Virginia, especially in our priority areas of foster care and juvenile justice reform, early childhood care & education, and children’s mental health.
The budget hearings will be held in 4 locations around the state on January 7th, with a panel of legislators attending each one. It is a great opportunity to speak out about the devastating consequences to children and families when we do not invest in children’s well-being.
More specifically, we are looking for volunteers to talk about the following:
Foster Care & Juvenile Justice
If you are interested in attending one of the budget hearings to advocate on behalf of older youth in foster care in support of the Fostering Futures program, or if you are interested in speaking about juvenile justice reform (strong investments in family- and community-based as alternatives to incarceration), please contact Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard at firstname.lastname@example.org for talking points and more information on how to navigate the budget hearings.
Early Childhood Care & Education
If you wish to speak about early childhood education please contact Emily Griffey at Emily@vakids.org. She can help provide you with talking points to support home visiting, child care safety, the Virginia Preschool Initiative and the early childhood workforce.
Children’s Mental Health
Has your Community Service Board (CSB) and/or community benefited from the new children’s mental health funding for crisis response services and child psychiatry? Does your community still need better access to child psychiatry or crisis response services? If you are interested in talking about any of these topics, please contact Campaign for Children’s Mental Health Coordinator, Ashley Everette: Ashley@vakids.org.
Why testify at a budget hearing?
Your comments can help shape the state budget for the next year as it pertains to children’s services.
Speaking out educates our legislators about issues that are important to you and helps make Virginia a better place to live for kids and their families!
So where are the hearings?
Thursday, January 7, 2016 (Hearings begin at 10:00 a.m.)
Fredericksburg – University of Mary Washington, University Center, Chandler Ballroom
Wytheville – Wytheville Community College, Grayson Hall, Snyder Auditorium
Thursday, January 7, 2016 (Hearings begin at 12:00 noon)
Chesapeake – Tidewater Community College, Chesapeake Campus, Student Center Multipurpose Room
Richmond – General Assembly Building, House Room D
If you plan to testify at the budget hearings, we are happy to help you prepare your testimony. Remember, you will have 3 minutes or less! So please write your testimony and practice with a timer to make sure you are within the required time. We’ve also put together advocacy tips for budget hearings that can help you prepare your testimony.
Virginia’s revenue picture is certainly brighter than it was this time last year, though Governor McAuliffe informed the joint money committee members yesterday that his biennial budget proposal was based on “a conservative revenue forecast in the face of continued economic uncertainty.” He also noted that Virginia ended 2015 at a $549.6 million revenue surplus, “the largest in the Commonwealth’s history.” With that in mind, we are more determined than ever to make sure lawmakers use as much of that surplus as possible to make smart investments in strategies, supports, and programs aimed at improving the well-being of Virginia’s children.
Here’s our breakdown of how the budget proposal looks for kids in each of our core policy areas; we’ve included some links to more detailed information in each section, and check out our State Legislative Advocacy page for more:
Early Childhood Care & Education
Voices and our partners in the Early Childhood Policy Network believe that Virginia’s approach to early childhood education should be comprehensive, starting at birth and continuing through school. We are pleased to see that the Governor’s budget proposal follows this same approach by investing in the expansion of home visiting and early intervention, improving the safety of child care and providing opportunities for public-private preschool partnerships (details here). We were also pleased to see Congress take action to support early childhood education (details here).
Children’s Mental Health
The Governor’s proposed budget includes an additional $138,192 over the biennium to increase needed pediatrician services at the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA), the only public inpatient psychiatric hospital for children in Virginia. Other funding for children’s community-based mental health services remains level.
While were are pleased that children’s mental health crisis services and child psychiatry services were preserved at current levels, we know that additional funding is necessary to reach more children in need of these services. With bi-partisan support for these highly effective services, Voices along with its partners in the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health will continue to advocate for additional funding to support the expansion of community-based crisis response services and child psychiatry.
Thankfully, Governor McAuliffe is continuing to advocate for expanding health coverage to the 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians who need this access to care. Included in his budget proposal is a plan to draw down federal funding to expand health coverage to low-income Virginians using funds collected from Virginia’s hospitals to cover the Commonwealth’s state share of this option. While this topic has generated considerable controversy over the last couple of years, we hope the General Assembly can continue discussions with the administration to make sure we close the coverage gap and open access to health care for all Virginians.
Also included in the proposed budget is an expected 2% increase in foster care and adoption assistance payments, which is triggered automatically during the year following a state employee pay increase.
The Governor’s proposed budget includes an additional $1 million over the biennium for implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) in schools, with an emphasis on schools with high rates of disciplinary offenses. PBIS, along with other strengths-based school reforms, has shown to improve school climate and reduce suspensions and expulsions.
We are also pleased to see a biennial budget bill from the Governor that recognizes that the status quo within Virginia’s justice system is unacceptable. We support new language in the budget that provides for a reinvestment in a strong continuum of family- and community-based services as alternatives to incarceration. These types of evidence-based therapeutic responses are supported by the most current research, and are shown to reduce recidivism. Virginia’s current three-year reconviction rate for youth leaving our juvenile prisons stands at nearly 75%—we can and must do better; the reinvestment portion of the plan outlined in the Governor’s budget sets us on that path.
To speak to foster care issues, contact Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard (Amy@vakids.org); early childhood issues, contact Senior Policy Analyst Emily Griffey (Emily@vakids.org), and health care and children’s mental health, contact Policy Analyst Ashley Everette (Ashley@vakids.org).
For a refresher on the legislative & budget process, review our Advocacy Guide. We look forward to working with you as a voice for children during the 2016 General Assembly session!
Comments Off on Juvenile Justice Op-Ed in Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial “State must be smart on youth crime” on Sunday, March 4 written by Pat Nolan of Justice Fellowship and Marc Levin of Right on Crime. Here’s an excerpt:
“Crime — and youth crime in particular — should be dealt with by leveraging the power of families and communities to reform troubled youths whenever possible. This is best done through giving localities the flexibility they need to place more youth into rigorous, effective community-based programs and providing them with necessary mental health treatment, rather than costly and ineffective state institutions.”
It is great to have the need for community-based treatment in the paper and presented from the juvenile justice perspective. We are hopeful that the General Assembly will provide some new funds in the next bienniel budget for child psychiatry and community-based crisis services.