Parents seek juvenile justice changes

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - After three years of waiting, it was expected to be decision day for the Virginia Crime Commission. At issue: whether Virginia makes it "too easy" to put juveniles on trial as adults.

Groups of parents came by the busload in hopes of influencing the commission, but ultimately left disappointed when the issue was tabled yet again.

In a room that quickly became standing room only, parents from all corners of Virginia explained what they were here to do.

"I'm totally in favor of some changes. Quite a few changes," said W.E. Clark, Lynchburg.

Their side wants Virginia courts to stop trying so many teenagers as adults. The other side says Virginia law gives prosecutors a necessary freedom: to decide which crimes are too serious, for juvenile court.

"That's a decision we have to make. The balance that exists within the statue is a good one," said Alex Iden, Winchester Commonwealth's Attorney.

The debate turned into a question of how "evenly" the law is applied.

"I really believe, and from the data that I've seen, I strongly believe this, that there's uneven application across the commonwealth," said Barry Green, Department of Juvenile Justice.

But soon after, the hearing came to a not-entirely-unexpected halt.

"It will never, ever, ever get out of my committee," said Del. Dave Albo, Crime Commission Vice Chair.

The Crime Commission had agreed beforehand, that it lacked enough information -from both sides- to make a recommendation this year. The arguments would, once again, have to be put on hold.

"Right now we know young people who go into the adult criminal system are more likely to offend sooner,  faster, than if they were kept in the juvenile system," said Liane Rozzell, Pushing For Change.

While they're disappointed, children's advocates said they won't give up the fight.

"I'm quite a bit frustrated because I think when these kids are incarcerated as young as 14, they should not be in facilities when they're not with peers," said Almeta Harrington, Norfolk.

The Crime Commission agreed to re-visit the issue again next year. So the earliest that a recommendation would be made would happen in time for the 2011 General Assembly session.

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