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Should Virginia consolidate some of its juvenile justice facilities?

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The number of young people detained in Virginia’s juvenile justice system has gone down dramatically over the last few years, which is leading to a potential reorganization of the system.

In the next few weeks, a work group is expected to present recommendations to the Commission on Youth about how juvenile justice facilities might be more efficient – recommendations that might include consolidating some of the space and repurposing it for other services.

Senator Dave Marsden is a Democrat from Fairfax County who is leading the effort to examine the possibility of consolidating some of the centers.

"Common sense tells you that burglary has gone way down because people have home alarms and Ring systems on their front doors, that cars are very difficult to steal," Marsden says. "Now it's very difficult to steal a car, and they have car alarms. And a lot of kids have moved deviance indoors onto computers."

Some are worried about what might happen if the number of detention facilities is reduced now but the number of young people being detained goes up in the future during a Republican administration.

Senator David Suetterlein is a Republican from Roanoke County who says the reason for the decline is important to understand before making any decisions about capacity.

"There are a wide number of explanations," Suetterlein says. "We continue to look at those to see which ones likely are the primary reason so that we can decide what we ought to do next."

Members of the commission could be looking at as many as nine consolidations, which would reduce the number of detention facilities in Virginia from 24 to 15.

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. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.