Isle of Wight needs new home for detained juveniles

Published 1:45 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Isle of Wight County children accused of crimes could end up incarcerated more than 60 miles away from their homes while they await their day in court.

Chesapeake Juvenile Services has given the county until the end of March to find a new place for any future Isle of Wight detainees.

According to County Administrator Randy Keaton, Isle of Wight has had an agreement with Chesapeake going back more than 30 years allowing the county to house its court-involved youth at the city’s regional detention facility. The facility, which is already a roughly 40-mile drive from Isle of Wight, has similar arrangements with Franklin, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Southampton County.

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A temporary solution Isle of Wight is considering involves moving its detainees to a juvenile detention home in Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond.

Chesapeake’s detention center will reduce its capacity from 100 beds down to 25 by July. A Feb. 1 letter from Chesapeake to Keaton states the center will limit Isle of Wight, Southampton, Franklin and Suffolk to a combined 14-inmate cap and cease accepting any non-Chesapeake new arrivals as of March 31.

The letter further requires each locality to “assume full responsibility” for any worker’s compensation payments that result from violent interactions between Chesapeake’s staff and that a youth from that locality, and “immediately remove” a non-Chesapeake resident who causes physical injury to CJS staff or other youth, upon request.

Chesapeake Juvenile Services has not immediately responded to The Smithfield Times’ requests for comments. Keaton confirmed at a Feb. 2 meeting of Isle of Wights Board of Supervisors that there have been incidents involving out-of-area youth injuring Chesapeake’s detention center staff, at least one of which was severe enough to force an employee to medically retire on disability pay. Keaton didn’t specify whether the incident had involved an Isle of Wight youth or one from another locality.

Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Deputy Alecia Paul, assistant spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, estimates Isle of Wight alone currently sends between 10 to 13 juveniles per year to Chesapeake.

The decision as to whether a juvenile’s offense warrants detention pending a court hearing is up to Suffolk’s Court Services Unit, which also serves Isle of Wight, Franklin and Southampton. When Suffolk’s CSU issues a detention order, the Sheriff’s Office will acquire a juvenile arrest warrant known as a “petition.”

According to Isle of Wight County Attorney Bobby Jones, the decision is typically based on a juvenile’s history of violence or a crime of violence, such as robbery. A detained child’s case must be reviewed by the court every 21 days to determine if he or she remains a danger. Those who perform well in detention are typically released to a less restrictive alternative.

Those sentenced to a fixed term of incarceration following a court hearing are typically taken by Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice to a long-term facility such as the Bon Air juvenile correctional center, also located in Chesterfield.

Isle of Wight has budgeted $195,000 this year for its partnership with Chesapeake. According to Keaton, the cost works out to roughly $190 per inmate per day.

“It’s always an estimate because you never know exactly how many you’re going to have. … We’ve spent about half of it,” Keaton said.

Isle of Wight’s partnership with the Western Tidewater Regional Jail for adult inmates, by comparison, costs roughly $65 per day. Part of the added cost for juveniles is a requirement that facilities provide education services to the children while they’re detained, Jones said.