Three years after ordering a widespread study of juvenile justice, Virginia legislators had hoped to make improvements and repairs to a system that appears unfair to minorities and inconsistent from court to court, reports the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Other legislators say now is not the time to make changes. The Virginia State Crime Commission has been studying the juvenile justice system since 2006. It’s the first look at the system since the legislature made major changes 12 years ago, at a time when juvenile crime was at its peak.
Since then, juvenile crime has dropped about 34 percent, but there were significant spikes in robberies and homicides between 2006 and 2007, and experts project youth crime to begin increasing again in the coming years. A final report is scheduled to be delivered by Jan. 14. Preliminary findings show that black children are twice as likely as whites to be committed to juvenile correctional centers. This disproportion “may result from school policies, targeting of crime-ridden neighborhoods, inability of the indigent to retain paid counsel, and lack of available prevention opportunities and alternatives to detention,” the study said. The study also found that recidivism rates, or the number of juvenile offenders who commit new crimes, increase significantly when juveniles are tried in adult cour. The study cited a national report that contained the same conclusion. Among the significant changes to emerge from the 1996 reforms was a lowering to 14 the age a youth can be tried as an adult for certain crimes.