Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's Department of Juvenile Justice has an ambitious plan to replace the state's last two correctional centers for youth with a network of local confinement and treatment alternatives that work with troubled youths before they commit serious crimes that warrant hard time, reports the Washington Post. The $90 million proposal, which would be used to construct two small corrections centers, requires legislative approval and represents a rare opportunity for consensus between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature, all concerned with Virginia's inefficient system of housing young offenders.
Key lawmakers remain uneasy about the costs and timeline, but they agree that Virginia must modernize its antiquated system for dealing with minors who commit crimes, largely because the current system is ineffective, they say. Others are quietly advocating for tiny and more numerous facilities statewide. Virginia lags behind Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and other states that long ago closed big, expensive, centrally located juvenile prisons in favor of community-based treatment centers. Research favors a model that encourages young offenders to preserve family ties and learn practical skills in the communities where they live. National data shows that only about 15 percent of youth in confinement after sentencing are in facilities with more than 200 beds. In Virginia, it's 85 percent.