Voices’ Blog

Transforming the Juvenile Justice System 2017 Legislative Session (Updated 1/27)

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

Updated: January 27, 2017

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. 

Budget Amendments:

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.

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