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VA Youth Push For Changes To Juvenile Justice System

December 6, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. - Hundreds of young people from Virginia and other states are in the nation's capital today to urge Congress and President Obama to pass legislation that they say protects children. Liane Rozzell, executive director of the group Families & Allies of Virgina's Youth, says children as young as 14 can be tried as adults in Virginia courts, which she calls counterproductive.

"What we need to do is rely less on incarceration for young people and more on what works; and more local and community-based programming to help kids turn their lives around."

Rozzell says states like Virginia spend millions of dollars each year imprisoning youths in an adult system that is expensive and unsafe, even though the majority of young people are held for nonviolent offenses. She says there are community-based alternatives to detention and incarceration, some of which have been shown to reduce recidivism by up to 22 percent.

She adds there are 10 jurisdictions in Virgina working in a variety of ways to reduce the number of kids in detention. It's part of an initiative with the Annie E. Casey Foundation that she would like to see catch on in other areas.

"The goal of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is to keep as many young people as possible out of detention, so that detention is really a last resort and only for those kids that it's most appropriate for."

Today's rally in Washington, D.C., is the first event in a "Week of Action" sponsored by the Community Justice Network for Youth, in support of reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA