On Monday, a small group of people gathered at the State Capitol to deliver a message to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.
They are asking him not to support any new juvenile prisons in the commonwealth.
RISE for Youth organized community members and delivered more than 1,000 postcards with handwritten notes urging the governor to reject any kind of budget that includes funding to build “new, ineffective and harmful youth prisons.”
Valerie Slater is RISE for Youth’s coordinator.
“We have been working very hard to combat this idea that we need to build two new youth prisons in Hampton Roads and in Richmond or to build one large facility in the Powhatan area,” she said.
RISE for Youth has been vocal about the future of Virginia’s juvenile justice system since Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center closed last year.
The group seeks community-based alternatives to incarceration.
“We recognize that sometimes secure care is needed, but that secure care should be small and that it should be regionally located within the communities where young people are coming from,” said Slater.
Lawmakers are still finalizing a two-year state budget.
“The decision is going to be made how we spend our juvenile justice dollars,” said Slater.
Douglas Johnson has firsthand experience. He was locked up at the age of 15.
“It ain’t somewhere that you want to be at. There ain’t nothing cool about it,” he said.
Now 17, he created the artwork stamped on the postcards. It says, “Incarceration broke 3 generations of my family. A job and mentor could keep my child free.”
Johnson said what’s in place now isn’t working for offenders. He would rather see money spent on rehabilitative programs and resources than brand new buildings.
“When they come home, they just do the same thing over. It’s a repeating cycle. People who get incarcerated, they don’t do nothing but come right back,” he said.
We reached out to the Department of Juvenile Justice to see what options are still formally on the table. We will update this story once we hear back.
Lawmakers face a July 1 deadline to pass a budget.