Home News Center Legal Aid Justice Center and RISE for Youth Celebrate Wins in Virginia

Legal Aid Justice Center and RISE for Youth Celebrate Wins in Virginia

April 29, 2021
Emma Paine

Photo of Four Youth Smiling with Article Headline

During the 2021 Virginia legislative session, NJJN members, 
Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and RISE for Youth, celebrated two wins for youth justice. These victories are a testament to Virginia advocates’ commitment to youth justice despite barriers created by the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the pandemic, there were strict bill limits and legislators were not meeting at the state capitol. The House of Delegates were meeting remotely while the Senate met at the Richmond Science Museum. Despite these challenges, advocates were able to advance youth justice reform in Virginia.  

Community members, RISE for Youth, The Commonwealth Institute, the Juvenile Law Center, and LAJC joined together to eliminate fees that required families to pay “child support” to the Commonwealth while their child was committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. The financial and emotional stress these fines put on families is undeniable. A member of the RISE for Youth, who had personally experienced receiving an incarceration support bill for their son’s commitment, is quoted sharing, “First, I had no idea this was even a possibility, that I would have to pay anything for my son’s commitment, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened my mail and learned that I had an order to pay the state $735 a month for child support, and I was already in arrears when I received the order in the middle of a pandemic… I am so glad that my son only had a commitment of six months, anything longer and my family would have been homeless and hungry.”  

Another major purpose of this legislation is to reduce racial disparities in the system. “Pay to stay” fees disproportionately affect Black and Brown families. In fact, 67% of those who receive these bills are Black while only 22% are white. Virginia joins six other states (CaliforniaMarylandNevadaNew HampshireNew Jersey, and Washington) who have eliminated these fines.  

The second win LAJC saw through was closing loopholes to uphold youth’s due process right to a sentence review hearing. “A hallmark of our youth justice system is the power of courts to assess each youth’s progress and amend sentences as appropriate. However, through our legal clinic, we were seeing a large number of youth taking plea bargains that strip them of their right to have their sentence reviewed by a judge,” said Rob Poggenklass LAJC’s Attorney for Youth Justice and Civil Rights & Racial Justice Programs. This new law creates more avenues for youth to earn early release by ensuring that prosecutors cannot demand that this right be waived in plea deals  

During the 2022 legislative session, LAJC will continue to advocate for civil rights and racial justice, economic justice, youth justice, and for the fair treatment of immigrants. Their youth justice advocacy points focus around school funding, school policing, special education, and restorative school discipline. RISE for Youth’s 2022 focus remains on building healthy community infrastructure to ensure youth receive supports and services in their home communities, leading the charge for a paradigm shift in youth justice to recognize youth justice system involvement as a public health crisis and ending racial and ethnic disparities faced by youth in policing and justice system involvement in the Commonwealth. 

To learn more about the Legal Aid Justice Center and how you can join their mission, visit their website and follow them on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Visit RISE for Youth’s website and follow them on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter to hear more about their work with Virginia youth.  

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