A Virginia House committee today killed a Senate-passed bill that would have allowed officials to jail juveniles who are not charged with any crime.
At the same time, however, the Senate gutted a bill aimed at decreasing the number of juveniles in adult jails, a category in which Virginia is among the leaders in the nation. That bill must go to a House-Senate conference, because the House passed a version of the bill that was much more restrictive about youths who may be jailed.
The Courts of Justice Committee killed, 12 to 5, a bill sponsored by Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Stafford) that would have allowed judges to incarcerate "status offenders" who violate a court order. Status offenders, also known as "children in need of services," are youths who are not charged with a crime but who run away from home, do not attend school or otherwise get into trouble.
Chichester said his bill was aimed at repeat offenders who violate court orders to obey curfews or go to school. "We're not talking about babes in arms," he said.
"There are juveniles who do not listen to anybody or any court order," Del. Kenneth B. Rollins (R-Loudoun) agreed.
About 4,000 youths older than 14 but younger than 18 are sent to adult jails in Virginia every year, according to state officials. The federal government has urged all states to abandon the practice, and Maryland sends juveniles to jail only in rare instances. But in Virginia, youths go to jail when sheriffs do not want to transport them to juvenile detention centers or when judges want to teach them a lesson.
"Even though they weren't there because they were law violators," said Del. Frank M. Slayton (D-Halifax), an opponent of the bill, "they were rapidly learning how to violate the law because of the criminals they were associating with."