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Archive for November, 2010

Several articles about JustChildren’s new report, Unlocking the Truth: Real Stories About the Trial and Incarceration of Youth as Adults in Virginia, have recently run across the Commonwealth. Check out the articles by following the links below:

Advocacy Group Report Criticizes Virginia’s Treatment of Juvenile’s in Adult Court, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 10, 2010

Tough Prison Sentences Throw Away the Key on Teen Offenders, Virginian Pilot, Nov. 14, 2010
Juvenile Justice: Drawing Lines, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 21, 2010

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The JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center released a new report today that tells the often untold and overlooked stories of youth tried and incarcerated as adults in Virginia.  The report, Unlocking the Truth: Real Stories About the Trial and Incarceration of Youth as Adults in Virginia, is a result of JustChildren’s listening tour with youth convicted as adults, families, community members, and attorneys during the summer and fall of 2010.  The report confirms that Virginia’s system of trying youth as adults is unfair, unsafe, and ineffective.

The report’s findings and recommendations are timely as the Virginia State Crime Commission is currently studying the issue of trying youth as adults and considering two bills carried over from the 2010 legislative session specifically focused on altering the current process for trying youth as adults.  It is expected that the Crime Commission will issue their recommendations on December 8, 2010.

Unlocking the Truth is the second of two reports examining Virginia’s transfer system. Click on the following link for a copy of  JustChildren’s 2009 report, Don’t Throw Away the Key: Reevaluating Adult Time for Youth Crime in Virginia.

The Key Findings from Unlocking the Truth: Real Stories About the Trial and Incarceration of Youth as Adults in Virginia:

  • Adult convictions undermine successful reentry.  Youth tried, convicted, and incarcerated as adults in Virginia face numerous obstacles to living productive and crime-free lives upon their return home due to a lack of services and opportunities in the adult correctional system and the barriers associated with an adult conviction.
  • Adult correctional institutions are not safe places for young people.  The youth and families JustChildren interviewed recounted numerous stories about victimization and isolation of young people incarcerated with adults.
  • There is a lot of variation in local practice around making certification decisions.  The time and attention paid to the decision to try a youth as an adult often varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  As a result, similar youth charged with similar offenses face extremely dissimilar outcomes based on the jurisdictions in which they are tried.
  • Unequal bargaining power produces unjust results.  Because Commonwealth’s Attorneys have virtually unlimited authority over certification decisions for a wide array of offenses, they have a tremendous amount of bargaining power when it comes to negotiating pleas.  Defense attorneys expressed frustration with how the threat of transfer inhibits their ability to pursue a meaningful defense for their young clients who are facing serious consequences and puts a lot of pressure on youth to plead guilty.

In the report, JustChildren makes recommendations that would give Circuit Court judges more options for returning youth to the juvenile system or for reducing the barriers to reentry posed by an adult conviction.

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