Department hopes alternative to jail will help kids facing criminal charges

Department hopes alternative to jail will help kids facing criminal charges
Some children in trouble with the law may get an alternative to jail time. (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Some children in trouble with the law may get an alternative to jail time. The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice will soon launch a partnership with the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club where kids could go to the club instead of facing a judge.

The partnership is still in the pilot phase but the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice estimates that about 200 children statewide could benefit.

The department is taking a hard look at this alternative because they say jail isn't always the answer.

"It could be fighting, it could be misdemeanor theft, it could be maybe very low-level drug possession, something like that. Misdemeanors typically," said Andy Block, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice director.

If its determined the child is not at risk of reoffending, they could soon be diverted to The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Virginia.  It could happen before a child even enters a courtroom.

"This might be a kid who needs again a safe place to go or help getting reconnected to a school or help getting connected to services," said Block. "And getting into the boys and girls club will help address those underlying issues without having them get involved in our sticky system."

Block says for several months, the child will work one-on-one with a case coordinator to come up with ways to avoid trouble and boost their academics.

The child will also have access to all of the daily activities at the club.  Conflict management and gang resistance strategies are some of the things that are taught.

"I think this is a wonderful moment in DJJ's history," said Valerie Slater with the Rise for Youth Coalition. She has been fighting for juvenile justice reform and doesn't believe youth jails are the answer but says this is a step in the right direction.

"It's really nice to see them partnering with an organization this large that has this far-reaching impact in the communities."

The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice says it's still in the beginning stages but families in Richmond, Danville, Newport News, and Hampton will benefit.  Funds were made available with the closing of the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center in Powhatan.

The department also says if there are siblings living in the house, they can also be referred to the Salvation Army Boys & Girls clubs as well.

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