Group asks lawmakers not to support building new youth prisons

Group asks lawmakers not to support building new youth prisons

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Members of "Rise for Youth" are asking lawmakers to stop supporting the construction of youth prisons. They believe there are better alternatives to incarceration.

Their push comes as the state considers building two new youth prisons.

Rise for Youth says alternative programs get major support from people in the community over incarceration. The group put all of it together in a study, which they gave to lawmakers at the General Assembly on Monday.

Members first met up at a display in downtown Richmond, showcasing work from some very unlikely artists. One piece by 17-year-old Douglas Johnson says,"Incarceration broke three generations of my family, a job and mentor could keep my child free."

Johnson made it while serving six months behind bars.

The message from these creations: incarceration is not working for youth in Virginia. There are many who want change.

"It's been a chain like the same repeats, so if I break the cycle, then that could keep my child free," says Johnson.

Rise for Youth is hoping to take this message to lawmakers, as the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice is proposing to build two new youth prisons on the Isle of Wight and Chesapeake.

"We believe, first of all, that prisons don't work, and we support alternatives to incarcerations for Virginia's youth," says Valerie Slater with Rise for Youth.

Those options include investing more in programs that support young people before they get in trouble with the law. That also means support for families, which includes counseling, substance abuse treatment and mentoring.

Slater also wants lawmakers and state leaders to sit down with members of the community who are impacted by youth incarceration and hear what they would like to be brought to their communities.

"It's very important that we get from a punitive standpoint into a rehabilitative standpoint in order to resolve the issues that's causing our children to make less-than-positive decisions," says LaTonya Wallace, director of the Community Engagement and Resource Center.

The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice is going through a transformation. It already closed the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center and says the new facilities will be smaller, safer with better services.

Rise for Youth says facilities are still needed for young people who commit serious crimes, but they say it should be smaller than what is proposed and located where there is a higher level of incarceration - like Newport News or Richmond.

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