Dramatic cuts to juvenile arrests in Henrico County

Published: Jan. 13, 2016 at 10:54 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2016 at 11:27 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's been six months since Henrico County police completely changed the way officers arrest juveniles in the county. The number of arrests is going down, and the biggest cut can now be seen within the school system. Instead of handcuffs, many juveniles who get in trouble in Henrico are being diverted to other programs or are being disciplined through the school system.

When the first school bell rang this year, a total revision of student discipline was put in place. The focus is on decrease the number of juvenile arrests and putting more responsibility on school administrators. "This was the right thing to do for these kids," says Henrico County Police Chief Douglas Middleton.

Middleton says arresting students for misdemeanors and disorderly conduct violations is traumatic and does more harm than good. Now the arrest numbers on school property for the first semester  have come in and the results are dramatic. "What we've transitioned from is from over 300 arrests in the previous year to just two arrests this year," says Middleton.

The juvenile arrest policy change extends county wide.  It started in July 2015. From July to October of 2014, there were 471 juvenile arrests across Henrico, according to Henrico police. However, for the same time period for 2015 after the policy change, the number d ropped to 205 arrests. "That is remarkable," says Middleton. "It tells me that what we're doing is working."

For more serious charges, the chief says a court intake officer reviews the case and decides on diversion to other programs or an arrest. That process, according to the chief, can take two to six weeks and also makes sure the parent is involved.

The system changes in Henrico, according to education advocates, needs to be taken state wide.

"Virginia leads the nation in school based referrals of students to law enforcement," says Jason Landberg, an attorney with the JustChildren program with the Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center. Landberg recently wrote a report calling on legislators to rewrite state codes that criminalize 'typical childhood misbehaviors.'  "That contact in juvenile court makes them significantly more likely to d rop out and misbehave in the future," he says.

For now, localities like Henrico are taking up the cause with the hope it will reduce the school to prison pipeline.

Chief Middleton says he has not received one complaint this year about any Henrico school resource officer.  He also adds the policy change does not always apply to felonies and serious crimes like felonious assaults, robberies and handgun violations.

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