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Richmond Town Hall On Juvenile Justice Reform

The director of Virginia's Department of Juvenile Justice will take questions from the public in a town hall meeting in Richmond Thursday night. Credit: Richard Ross for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The director of Virginia's Department of Juvenile Justice will take questions from the public in a town hall meeting in Richmond Thursday night. Credit: Richard Ross for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
October 28, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - The head of Virginia juvenile justice will take questions from the public Thursday in Richmond. Organizers say the town hall is a chance to talk about reforming the system.

The director of Virginia's Department of Juvenile Justice, Andy Block, will sit down with young people and families who have come in contact with the system. Jeree Thomas, an attorney with the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the center is seeing a real openness from officials, and she wants everyone to attend.

"We want anyone who is interested, and even those who don't realize they're interested, to come," she said. "This is really an opportunity to say, 'Let's talk about the issues and how to better serve young people.' "

The town hall will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at ART 180 at 114 W. Marshall St. in Richmond. Thomas said anyone interested in attending should RSVP at riseforyouth.org.

Thomas is working with the coalition RISE For Youth, which aims to replace the state's two big prisons for juvenile offenders. She said Virginia can get better results by addressing the young people's problems while keeping them connected to their families and communities. The prisons were built to be a deterrent for young people who break the law, but Thomas said locking a juvenile up costs nearly $140,000 a year - and three quarters of them break the law again within three years of getting out.

"We are spending a lot, but we're not getting the outcomes," she said. "There are more cost-effective and more effective overall alternatives to youth incarceration."

Thomas said the Legal Aid Justice Center expects the issue to come up during the next session of the General Assembly.

"We all are better when our kids do better," she said, "and when they're able to get an education, get a job, so that our communities can be safer and healthier and whole."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA