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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 33

    Document Title
    The Study of Serious Juvenile Offenders

    Virginia Commission on Youth

    Enabling Authority
    HJR 36 (Regular Session, 1992)

    Executive Summary
    Virginia, along with the rest of the nation, is grappling with finding appropriate and effective strategies to intervene with the serious juvenile offender. The violent juvenile offender requires a tremendous expenditure of resources from the law enforcement phase through prosecution and disposition. As the nature of juvenile crime has changed, there has been a concurrent need to review the adequacy of the existing legal and correctional systems which have been established to respond to this population. House Joint Resolution 36 directed the Commission on Youth to study the serious juvenile offender with the goal of assessing the adequacy of the transfer statutes and making recommendations for improvement. A Task Force was established and federal funds were secured to aid the Commission in its efforts.

    House Joint Resolution 36 Task Force study activities have focused on for issues:

    • defining the population of juveniles who have been convicted in Circuit Court by offense and service history,

    • comparing transferred and convicted juveniles to those retained in the juvenile justice system and committed to Learning Centers,

    • identifying jurisdictional variations in the reliance on the transfer option, and

    • identifying those factors that influence the decision-making process for "transfer eligible" juveniles.

    With only the first phase of the data analysis complete, the Commission on Youth is requesting continuation of the study for an additional year. The paucity of existing automated data on this population has made the research effort very time-consuming. An additional year is needed to review the data and make thorough, conclusive legislative recommendations. Given the importance of the transfer issue and its far-reaching impact on the juvenile and criminal justice systems, additional time is required to ensure the involvement and consideration of various points of view.

    This report details findings from the data analysis to date, presents a workplan for the second year research, and summarizes the testimony from the public hearings held across the state this past summer and fall. There are seven recommendations from the Commission on Youth based on the first year of study. Brief summaries of the key findings are listed below. The findings are based on analyses of juveniles between the ages of fifteen and seventeen that were arrested for transferable crimes as defined in § 16.1-269 Code of Virginia (murder/manslaughter, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, auto theft, and drug sales) for years 1988 through 1990.


    1. Circuit Court convictions of juveniles increased 31% compared to a 7% increase in arrest for transferable crimes between 1988 and 1990.

    Arrests for transferable crimes grew 7% from 1988 to 1990. This increase occurred across the Commonwealth and was not restricted to urban areas. The 7% increase in arrests, however was overshadowed by a 22% increase in commitments to Learning Centers and an increased reliance on adult court sanctions as evidenced by a 31% increase in the number of juveniles transferred and convicted in Circuit Court.

    2. There are tremendous jurisdictional variations in arrests, commitments and transfers for transferable offenses by eligible juveniles.

    Marked jurisdictional differences were revealed in the statewide analyses of juvenile arrests for transferable offenses, convictions for transferable offenses and juvenile and adult court dispositions for transferable offenses. The variations were found in the analyses for specific crimes, as well as in the analyses of the aggregate handling of cases by each court district. For example, District 1, the City of Chesapeake, ranked seventeenth statewide in per capita juvenile arrests for transferable crimes as defined in § 16.1-269 but fifth in per capita Circuit Court convictions of juveniles. Conversely, District 12, Chesterfield County, ranked tenth in arrests and twenty-third in Circuit Court convictions. The role of law enforcement, Commonwealth's attorneys, probation staff, defense counsel, Juvenile and Circuit Court Judges, and the availability of dispositional options all play a role in accounting for this "justice by geography."

    3. Juveniles committed to Learning Centers and those convicted in Circuit Court are predominately minority males who are at least two years behind their age-appropriate grade level.

    While there are differences between the two groups of juveniles, there are also many demographic similarities. According to 1990 Virginia census data, 27% of the state's juvenile population are minorities. The House Joint Resolution 36 analyses found that of the juveniles committed to Learning Centers for transferable offenses, 63% were minorities and 70% of the juveniles transferred and convicted in Circuit Court were minorities. The majority of both groups had previous convictions (81 % of the Learning Center population and 82% of the transfer population). As would be expected, juveniles who were transferred had twice as many average prior convictions. However, the majority of these prior convictions were for property offenses.

    4. The majority of juveniles (63%) convicted in Circuit Court are sentenced to prison, however 22% receive no incarceration.

    It is routinely perceived that transferring a juvenile results in a more punitive sentence. While one fifth of the juveniles transferred between 1988 to 1990 received no incarceration, the overwhelming majority, 63% were sentenced to prison and the remaining 15% served jail time. It is possible that some sentenced to jail are actually in the Shock Incarceration or Boot Camp program.

    5. Juveniles convicted in Circuit Court, who have been released during the study timeframe, served an average of twice as long as youth committed to Learning Centers for transferable offenses as defined in § 16.1-269.

    Juveniles convicted in Circuit Court are sentenced for an average of 8.1 years. Of the 1,028 juveniles who had been transferred and convicted for transferable offenses between calendar years 1988-1990, 649 received a prison sentence. Of these sentenced juveniles, 211 had served their time in prison and were released by June 1992. These juveniles served an average of 17 months. On the other hand, of a sample of 363 Learning Center juveniles, 312 had been released as of September 1992. This population served an average of 7.6 months for transferable offenses. Thus, transferred juveniles who were sentenced to incarceration serve twice as long for each crime as those juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system. However, when analyzing lengths of incarceration, it should be noted that there are differing philosophies and sentencing structures between the juvenile and adult systems which influence the time served.

    6. Prior property offenses, closely followed by the age of the juvenile, are the greatest predictors of the decision to transfer.

    Through the creation of a statistical model, thirteen case variables (age, previous record, committing offense, etc.) were found to have a predictive influence on the decision to transfer a case to Circuit Court. The results of a regression analysis found that the single most important variable in determining whether a juvenile was committed to a Learning Center versus transferred/convicted in adult court was the number of prior property offenses. The analysis also found that the chance of being transferred increased if a juvenile was seventeen at the time of the offense. Conversely, if a juvenile had received mental health treatment, had a higher level of education, and was from a suburban city, their chance of being retained in the juvenile system increased.

    7. Public sentiment varies greatly regarding the transfer of juveniles to Circuit Court.

    The House Joint Resolution 36 Task Force held a series of public hearings on juvenile crime throughout the State. Representatives from law enforcement, public and private providers, judges, board members and staff from the Department of Youth and Family Services, private citizens and advocates all testified before the House Joint Resolution 36 Task Force. There was tremendous diversity of opinion regarding improvements to the system. Samples of the suggestions received include: lowering of the age of transfer, extending the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, establishment of a juvenile parole board, and automatic prosecutorial waiver. While there is unanimity of opinion that the current system is not adequately responding to the serious juvenile offender, consensus on corrective action is not apparent.

    8. Existing data and information collection systems for juvenile offenders is inadequate.

    The juvenile justice data system has many gaps and limitations. First, the law enforcement, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and Department of Youth and Family Services' dispositional and intake data bases do not track individual cases. Nor do these data systems interface with one another. Second, the nature and extent of information gathered on juvenile offenders varies greatly across juvenile and adult systems limiting the ability to compare the populations. Third, it is impossible to identify the number of transfer motions made across the state because the data is not kept on any automated, aggregate level. Lastly, information developed by the juvenile court staff with respect to social histories and transfer reports, are inconsistent within and across jurisdictions. Judges are handicapped by the lack of current and consistent information provided to them in the social histories and transfer reports.


    As a result of these findings the Commission on Youth makes the following recommendations:

    1. The General Assembly approve legislation continuing House Joint Resolution 36, directing the Commission on Youth to conduct a comprehensive study of serious juvenile offenders, for an additional year.

    2. The General Assembly not amend § 16.1-269 Code of Virginia with respect to delineating the types of juveniles for which the transfer statute should apply until the serious Juvenile Offender study is completed in the fall of 1993.

    3. The General Assembly not amend § 16.1-269 Code of Virginia with respect to those offenses for which amenability to treatment is not considered until the Serious Juvenile Offender study is completed in the fall of 1993.

    4. The General Assembly amend § 16.1-269 (3e) Code of Virginia to presume the child is competent to stand trial and to place the burden to rebut the presumption on the moving party.

    5. The General Assembly amend § 16.1-269 Code of Virginia to require the court to consider a child's degree of mental illness and/or mental retardation as defined by the Code of Virginia when deciding to transfer.

    6. The General Assembly amend § 16.1-269 Code of Virginia to require transfer reports address the degree of a child's mental illness and/or mental retardation.

    7. The General Assembly amend § 16.1-269E Code of Virginia to allow Circuit Court appeal hearings to take further evidence on the issue of transfer if such an appeal is requested.

    8. The Department of Youth and Family services develop a task force to aid in the development of data collection instruments to provide uniform collection of the social history information as promulgated by agency standards. The Department should appoint a task force to aid in the development of the uniform data collection. This task force should be composed of Commonwealth's attorneys, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and Circuit Court Judges, law enforcement personnel, probation officers, House Joint Resolution 36 Task Force members and other relevant entities.

    9. The Department ·of Youth and Family services develop a task force to aid in the development of standards and uniform data collection to be used in the completion of transfer reports. This task force should be composed of Commonwealth's attorneys, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and Circuit Court Judges, law enforcement personnel, probation officers, and House Joint Resolution 36 Task Force Members and other relevant entities.