November | December 2017

State Spotlight: How Virginia Is Transforming Its Juvenile Justice System

Article revised 12/28/17

The Annie E. Casey Foundation established the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) with support from OJJDP to improve states’ juvenile justice policies, practices, and programs and ensure that only those youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety are held in secure pretrial detention.

JDAI emphasizes collaboration, using data to guide decisionmaking, using objective admissions criteria and risk assessment instruments, and implementing new or expanded alternatives to secure detention. Other core strategies are expediting case processing, monitoring and improving conditions of confinement, combating racial and ethnic disparities where they exist, and reducing inappropriate or unnecessary stays in detention.

In Virginia, the JDAI effort is a strategic process in which agency leaders, line staff, child advocates, and community partners work collaboratively to achieve system improvements. Virginia’s adherence to the initiative’s core strategies has yielded encouraging results. The state has experienced significant reductions in detention admissions, length of stay, and average daily population since it established its JDAI program in 2003. Since 2014, Virginia has been applying JDAI’s core strategies to youth who have been committed to the direct care of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

During her visit with the Virginia State Advisory Group in September, OJJDP Acting Administrator Eileen M. Garry witnessed firsthand the positive impact the initiative is having on young lives when she visited the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center (Bon Air JCC) in Richmond. Bon Air JCC is a rehabilitative, coed facility that serves youth who have been committed by a juvenile court. Treatment programs include substance abuse, mental health, and intensive therapeutic programming. The facility has an active Student Government Association (SGA), which elects peer leaders and gives residents the chance to serve their peers. When youth have an issue, they can seek relief through the SGA, which advocates for them with the facility administration. The SGA helps youth build leadership, problem-solving, and life skills that will aid them in successfully reentering their communities and continuing on productive paths.

The Bon Air JCC is only one example of how Virginia is transforming juvenile corrections in the state. The center is the last remaining secure juvenile correctional facility in Virginia; savings from closing facilities were channeled into promoting diversion and community placement programs.

Virginia’s community placement programs (CPPs) have replaced traditional juvenile correctional facilities for adjudicated youth ages 16 to 20 who are 3 to 12 months from release. The state’s eight CPPs prepare youth for community reintegration by increasing educational competencies and employment readiness.

CPPs offer a variety of services, such as anger management classes, substance abuse treatment, community service opportunities, and recreational activities. Residents who have not finished high school or earned a GED attend a certified educational program on site. Residents who are older than 18 and have completed high school or have earned a diploma are required to attend vocational classes or programs that improve their employability and teach them independent living skills. Case managers monitor and assess the residents’ progress and readjust the case plans, as necessary.

According to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Data Resource Guide: Fiscal Year 2016, detainments decreased 16.3 percent from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2016 (10,034 to 8,400) within the state. The average daily population in juvenile corrections centers decreased from 735 to 643 during the same period. Virginia’s success indicates that alternatives that are responsive to the strengths and needs of youth can make an important difference in the lives of juveniles, their families, and their communities.


More information about the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice is available online.

Read a literature review on alternatives to detention and confinement on OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide website.