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JLARC: Black youth still disproportionately referred to juvenile justice system


The Department of Juvenile Justice's undertaking of major reforms succeeded in serving more youth in the community rather than in secure confinement, the head of the General Assembly’s watchdog agency told lawmakers Monday, but during a presentation researchers noted racial inequities still persisted.

Black youth are 2.5 times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system. Schools, citizens, and social service agencies can make complaints about children and teens, which can introduce them to the system, but they don’t account for most children and teens entering it.

“About two thirds of referrals came from law enforcement over the past decade, and Black youth were 2.6 times more likely to be referred by law enforcement than white youth,“ Drew Dickinson, the project leader for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's review of the system, told JLARC's legislative members. Justin Brown, the commission staff's Associate Director, oversaw the commission’s study of the juvenile justice system.

Dickinson said schools disproportionately file complaints against students along racial lines too, 1.7 times more for black students, which is significantly less than law enforcement.

While law enforcement put in the most referrals, Virginia’s schools’ refer a higher proportion of students to the juvenile justice system than other states.

There’s also some variation between communities in the Commonwealth. In Alexandria, Black youth are referred to the system 1.3 times more than white students. In Richmond, that figure was 4.5.

Racial disproportionality also impacts Black youth before trial. There were 15 young people waiting for adjudication in May. All but one of them were Black.

JLARC reported that Virginia is similar to the rest of the US in that fewer young people are going through the juvenile justice system: 9,551 in 2011 vs 2,980 in 2021. The report said this partially attributable to a decline in youth arrests and complaints.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Corrected: December 14, 2021 at 10:15 AM EST
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote about referrals to Justin Brown.