Governor signs Peace bill to enhance services to at risk youth

Measure to Reduce Recidivism and Improve Outcomes for Offenders Returning to Communities Central Virginia- Delegate Christopher K. Peace (R-Hanover) is pleased to announce Governor Bob McDonnell ceremonially signed his legislation that strengthens re-entry policies in the Commonwealth and further enhances commitments to ensuring a strong focus on prisoner re-entry in Virginia.

The legislation will become law July 1, increases to 90 days the amount of time in which the court services unit must consult with the local department of social services before a juvenile is released from juvenile facility.  House Bill 2036 pertaining to juveniles reentering society from commitment was unanimously passed by the House and Senate. 

“The foremost priority of government is public safety,” Governor McDonnell said. “As a prosecutor, state delegate, attorney general and as governor, I have worked to make Virginia’s communities safer places to live, work and raise a family. One critical component to this is making sure Virginia has an effective prisoner re-entry strategy that includes strong, successful programs. An effective prisoner re-entry plan is good government. It improves public safety, reduces recidivism and victimization and improves the outcome for offenders returning to our communities. Everyone deserves a second chance. We must provide offenders who are leaving our prisons with the tools and resources they need to become productive, law-abiding members of society. We do not want to see offenders come back to jail; we want to see them go to work. That is good public policy that helps the offenders, saves taxpayer dollars and makes our communities safer.”

Governor McDonnell continued, “Last year, I appointed Virginia’s first statewide prisoner re-entry coordinator and established a prisoner and juvenile offender re-entry council to assist state agencies in developing a coordinated statewide re-entry strategy. Smart re-entry practices require a unified effort.  Many of the re-entry services provided around the state are through faith-based and non-profit organizations, state and local agencies, and private partners. We must work together on this critical issue, and adopt policies and legislation to make sure our inmates are better prepared upon their release. Working together, we can further reduce recidivism, foster successful transition from prison back into society, and better provide valuable evidence-based re-entry services.”

This legislation emerged from the Commission on Youth’s Study of Juvenile Offender Reentry.  A major finding from this study was that additional planning time is needed for juvenile offenders who are reentering into their community from the Department of Juvenile Justice.  This is especially true for foster care youth who are committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

House Bill 2036 increases the amount of time that a Court Services Unit (CSU) is to consult with the local Department of Social Services (DSS) from four weeks to 90 days services prior to a juvenile’s release from the Department of Juvenile Justice who was previously served in foster care.  These changes are consistent with the development of the juvenile’s mental health transition plan.

In addition, the bill requires the development of a transition plan by the Court Services Units and the local Department of Social Services working collaboratively together.  The transition plan will identify the services necessary for a successful reentry and describe how the services are to be provided.

Speaking to the bill Peace stated, “This legislation is a positive initiative to reduce recidivism rates for juveniles simultaneously under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Social Services and assist in creating a more successful transition to a less restrictive environment. It helps kids and will reduce the cost burdens on the system.”

This bill will allow local departments of social services additional time to investigate whether there can be a safe placement with family members in lieu of returning the juvenile to foster care, to commence a foster care review or a permanency planning hearing, and to initiate the Medicaid application process and assess the availability of other applicable benefits or services.

The Commission on Youth endorsed the measure. The Commission is a bipartisan, legislative commission of the Virginia General Assembly in which Delegate Peace serves as vice-chair.

Delegate Christopher K. Peace was elected to his third term representing the 97th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. The District includes parts of Hanover, Caroline, King William, King and Queen, Henrico, Spotsylvania Counties and all of New Kent County.