The Proposed Youth Prison in Chesapeake is the Wrong Approach

Chesapeake, Va. – In response to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s recommendation to build a brand-new 60-bed youth prison in Chesapeake, RISE for Youth issued the following statement calling on the Chesapeake City Council to stand up for the best interests of children and their community and reject the proposed youth prison during its August 8th city council meeting.

“The Chesapeake City Council must keep the community’s best interests at heart. The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)’s recommendation to build a new youth prison, wasting taxpayer dollars on an approach that fails to help kids learn better behaviors or keep neighborhoods safe, is bad for Chesapeake, bad for all other Hampton Roads communities and bad for Virginia.

A new youth prison in Chesapeake would impact children, communities, and the economy – which is why this decision can’t be taken lightly. The community needs and deserves more information before a decision is made. When RISE for Youth hosted a town hall here in Chesapeake last month to give community members the chance to express their needs and perspectives, we learned that community members were unaware that the state wanted to build a new youth prison in the area. It was clear that they had not been a meaningful part of the conversation about an issue that will have a major impact on their community and on children and families across the state. We also learned that the people of Chesapeake agree with statewide polls showing that Virginians favor closing youth prisons and reinvesting in education and other community-based alternatives.

A more transparent and robust conversation with impacted communities would lead to a better plan. The evidence clearly shows that community-based alternatives are less costly and better at rehabilitating young people and keeping neighborhoods safe. We support aspects of the DJJ plan that call for expanding access to alternatives while keeping youth near their homes and the communities that support them. And we wholeheartedly agree that placements in secure facilities should always be a last resort.

But the proposed youth prison in Chesapeake ultimately fails to reflect these shared priorities. A secure facility should be fewer than 24 beds, focused on positive youth development, and regionally based so that families do not have to travel more than an hour to stay connected to their child. The DJJ’s proposal of a 60-bed facility that isolates youth far from their homes and communities is not a place for positive development for youth; it’s a prison. RISE for Youth urges DJJ to go back to the planning table and work closely with impacted communities to consider a much broader range of options and facilities to house critical services for youth.

Last month’s closing of the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Facility was an important step in the right direction. The proposed youth prison in Chesapeake would be a major step backward and would neither help youth nor keep communities safe. Building a new prison just doesn’t make sense – our youth, families, and communities deserve better.”

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