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Commission to consider consolidating or repurposing some juvenile detention facilities

Virginia has 24 juvenile detention centers, and that may be way too many for the current population. Some of the facilities have a handful of kids and yet the facility is fully staffed with a principal and four teachers and a custodial staff and a cafeteria.

Senator Dave Marsden is a Democrat from Fairfax County who says it's time to take a hard look at these facilities and see if some might be consolidated. "The fact that we have this few kids locked up in our corrections and detention systems has created this problem, and it is a problem and it is difficult. You're talking about people's jobs and about beloved local programing, and it's difficult to do this," Marsden concedes. "But it is our obligation to spend public dollars in a more efficient and effective way."

The number of children who are incarcerated has gone down dramatically over the last 20 years, and there are a number of potential explanations for that.

But Republican Delegate Emily Brewer of Isle of Wight County says the pandemic might be obscuring the actual need. "The court dockets are obviously behind with scheduling and seeing kids, and that might also have something to do with the children that are also ending up in these facilities. So we may not be seeing the accurate student-to-teacher ratio at this present time," she says.

Next month, a work group will present recommendations to the Commission on Youthabout how these facilities might be more efficient -- recommendations that might include consolidating some of the space and repurposing it for other services.

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

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.