Isle of Wight delays final vote

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Youth correctional center details yet to come

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors postponed a final vote on transferring the land to the state for a youth correctional facility to its April meeting. 

The Board is still working on the terms of the deal with the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

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Meanwhile, the gym at the new Windsor Town Center was filled Thursday with residents strongly opposed to the facility. 

Throughout the three hours of public comments, no one, not a single person, spoke in favor of the project. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Signs against the project lined the sidewalk going into the center, and residents wore yellow stickers proclaiming their opposition to the proposed 60-bed residential facility, to be located about two miles south of Route 460 along Route 258. 

Residents repeatedly credited Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree and Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie for voting against the land transfer in February. 

Acree and Rosie serve constituents living closest to the proposed facility. 

The land transfer was approved on three votes from Chairman William McCarty, Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice and Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson. 

Arguments against the facility continued to center on the lack of return on investment, safety, the visibility and impact of the facility on the community, the types of offenses committed by youth sent to the center, the level of opposition and perceived lack of transparency as the project was rolled out publicly. 

Many however, simply said they did not want a juvenile correctional facility in their community. 

“We don’t want you here,” said Pete Chapman about the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

George Poston of Windsor asked the Board how it could listen to the “onslaught of opposition” and not respond.

“You’re going to leave a legacy. You’re going to leave a legacy that’s not good,” he said.

Dan Shelton urged the audience to hire a lawyer to file an injunction against the project in court and petition for a recall election to remove the Board from office. (Virginia doesn’t provide for recall elections.)

Prior to the public comments, Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton went over additional questions and concerns from residents about the facility. 

The facility is limited by the General Assembly to 60 beds and cannot be converted to an adult facility without approval by the Board of Supervisors, said Keaton. 

The facility will not be populated until the staff is trained and it will be filled with youth as they are sentenced from the Hampton Roads area, said Keaton.

“It will be a gradual process,” he said. 

A vegetative buffer will screen the facility from Route 258, with a 16-foot interior fence and a 6-8-foot exterior fence with screening, said Keaton. 

The DJJ does not object to community input about the exterior fence, nor does it object to notifications going out in the community in the event of an emergency or escape, said Keaton. 

Isle of Wight County has offered 20 acres of land and $500,000 toward running a water and sewer line down Route 258 as part of the deal with the state. 

The land was purchased years ago in anticipation of industrial development as part of the county’s intermodal park. The state will contribute the balance of the cost for the utilities that are expected to adequate enough for additional development in that area. 

Juvenile justice process

The youth at the proposed facility will range in age from 17 to 21 and will have committed misdemeanors and felonies. The DJJ is attempting to improve on its youth rehabilitation efforts by creating smaller facilities closer to the homes of those assigned to their care. The new model includes a less prison-like setting along with a higher degree of adult interaction, academics, vocational training and mental, substance abuse and medical services — as well as being closer to family, where additional support can be provided. It is based on a model that has been used in Missouri for years and is being replicated in many states across the country. 

However, many Isle of Wight residents opposed to the facility are concerned about the types of crimes that the youth will have committed in order to be sentenced to a secure facility.

To explain the intricacies of the juvenile justice system, Keaton read an explanation provided by Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips. It follows in its entirety. The numbers in parenthesis refer to the Code of Virginia.

“There is concern that the proposed DJJ facility will house juveniles who have been convicted of the following charges:  Murder (18.2-33); Felonious Injury by Mob (18.2-41); Abduction (18.2-48); Malicious Wounding (18.2-51); Malicious Wounding of Law Enforcement Officer (18.2-51.1); Felonious Poisoning (18.2-54.1); Robbery (18.2-58); Carjacking (18.2-58.1); Rape (18.2-61); Forcible Sodomy (18.2-67.1); and Object Sexual Penetration (18.2-67.2).

“When a juvenile, a person under the age of 18, commits a criminal offense the juvenile is charged by petition and is tried in the juvenile court. The goal of the juvenile court is to hold the juvenile accountable for his/her actions and to rehabilitate the juvenile.  The juvenile is tried in the juvenile court whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony.

“In certain circumstances, depending on the crime committed and the juvenile’s criminal history, a juvenile over the age of 14 can be tried as an adult. Specifically when a juvenile over the age of 14 commits one of the above listed offenses the juvenile court’s jurisdiction is limited to conducting a preliminary hearing when the Commonwealth’s Attorney provides notice to transfer the juvenile to be tried as an adult. Therefore a juvenile charged with any of the above listed offenses would typically not be tried in the juvenile court and therefore sentenced to a DJJ facility. Those juveniles who are tried in the juvenile court for any of the above listed offenses would be juveniles under the age of 14 and any juveniles who would be best treated in a juvenile facility. The determination to not transfer a juvenile to be tried as an adult would be made based on the facts of each case, the juvenile’s involvement in the case, and the juvenile’s criminal history.

“The only other way a juvenile charged with the above listed offenses can be sentenced to a DJJ facility is after transferring and trying the juvenile as an adult, the Circuit Court can sentence the juvenile as a “serious offender.” Again this determination would be based on the facts of each case, the juvenile’s involvement in the case, and the juvenile’s criminal history. This sentencing option is not routinely used and would not be used for truly violent offenders.”  {/mprestriction}