Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Juvenile Justice
Department (Board) of Juvenile Justice
Regulation Governing Juvenile Correctional Centers [6 VAC 35 ‑ 71]
Action Comprehensive review and consolidation of regulations applicable to juvenile correctional centers
Comment Period Ended on 6/12/2009
Back to List of Comments
6/11/09  3:02 pm
Commenter: Liane Rozzell, Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth

Considerations for Revised JCC Regulations

As you revise the regulations for Juvenile Correctional Centers (JCCs), please consider incorporating the following items governing how the Department of Juvenile Justice works with families of youth in the JCCs.  These regulations will enable Department staff and families to understand and carry out their roles and responsibilities as they work for the best outcomes for young people in JCCs.

Each item is numbered and followed by an explanation of why it should be included as a regulation.  We do not intend to write the specific regulatory language, but we do request that these key areas be addressed.  

Please note that we use the word “family” to recognize the variety of family members with close ties to youth in custody, including extended family and informal kinship relations that are not always legally recognized. Supportive relationships with pastors, teachers and other positive role models are important to youths’ success upon release.  These supportive relationships should be nurtured whenever possible during incarceration.  We use the terms “parents” and “guardians” to denote those who have legal decision-making power for young people in DJJ’s facilities.

1.  DJJ shall provide parents/guardians with a timely orientation to Department facilities, policies, and procedures.  DJJ will give parents/guardians contact information, including telephone numbers, fax numbers, and email addresses, for counselors and staff assigned to their children, the facility superintendent and assistant superintendents.  Parents/guardians shall be notified within 48 hours when new staff are assigned to their children.

In our experience, families do not know or understand what is happening in the facilities where their children are held, and they are often unsure about where to turn with questions or concerns.  With greater understanding, families will be better able to act as partners in a youth’s treatment.  

At a minimum, parents/guardians should be given easy-to-understand information about the REACH program, treatment programs, facility organization, the living quarters (including photos/video or a tour), treatment team meetings and how to participate in them, the grievance process, and disciplinary procedures.  Current regulations on admission and orientation provide for “notification of family including admission, visitation, and general information, including how the resident’s parent or legal guardian may request information and register concerns and complaints with the facility.”   This regulation needs to be stronger and more specific.

2.  DJJ shall invite and facilitate the participation of parents and guardians, either in person or by telephone, in Reception and Diagnostic Center staffing, treatment team meetings, classification and review hearings, transition planning and at all other decision-making points while youth are in custody or under Department supervision.  Department staff will give parents/guardians and youth an explanation of treatment and placement decisions, including Length of Stay calculations.  

DJJ should encourage parents and guardians to be active participants when decisions are made about their children, even decisions that are primarily governed by guidelines and regulations.  Excluding parents/guardians from participation undermines DJJ’s stated goal of partnership.

3.  DJJ shall provide parents and guardians with access to, and information about, the Department’s Ombudsman for resolution of grievances when policies and procedures are violated.  Parents/guardians shall have the right to file grievances or appeal decisions on behalf of their children.  

Parents/guardians should be able to be vocal and active advocates on behalf of children in DJJ custody without fear of retaliation against their children.  This includes the right to ask questions, express concerns, access policies, and file grievances.  

4.  DJJ shall invite and facilitate meaningful participation by parents and guardians in their children’s treatment, including medical treatment and behavioral health treatment. DJJ shall ensure that parents and guardians have the opportunity to meet confidentially in person or by telephone with staff involved with their children’s care and programming.  

Parents and guardians should be able to discuss their children’s health condition with licensed healthcare professionals, to be informed of proposed changes in treatment, and especially to provide informed consent for medications and procedures.  They also should be able to be present for significant medical treatment or hospitalization.

This is an area where current practice is not in keeping with the apparent goals of existing regulation.  The regulations say that “When a resident of a juvenile residential facility needs hospital care or other medical treatment outside the facility… a parent or legal guardian, a staff member, or a law enforcement officer, as appropriate, shall accompany the resident and stay at least during admission.”  It goes on to say, “If a parent or legal guardian does not accompany the resident to the hospital or other medical treatment outside the facility, the parent or legal guardian shall be informed that the resident was taken outside the facility for medical attention as soon as is practicable.”   

While the regulation implies that the presence of a parent or guardian is expected, in practice, this is not the norm.  Parents and guardians report not being notified when their children will undergo elective surgery, being barred from being present, or having to mount an extraordinary advocacy effort in order to attend.  The regulation should clearly state that unless the treatment is on an emergency basis, parents/guardians must be notified in advance and given the opportunity to be present.

5.  DJJ shall inform parents and guardians about matters related to their children’s welfare and treatment, including prompt notification of illness, injury, suicide attempts, medical transfer or death.  Such notification should be given as soon as possible, and no later than one hour after any serious incident or death.  

We do not find the issue of prompt notification explicitly covered in the regulations, and our members have experienced a lack of timely notification of serious incidents.

6.  DJJ shall notify parents and guardians of facility transfers within one day after the transfer, or before the next visitation period, whichever is sooner.  Youths shall have the opportunity to call their families on the day they arrive at a new facility placement.  

Families report not being notified in a timely way when youth are moved.  Ideally, families should be warned of a facility change in advance so that they may arrange for transportation to visitation.  Arrival at a new location is often stressful for youths, making access to the people who support and care for them especially important.

7.  DJJ shall enable youth to have visits from people who are important to them, including making reasonable and regular accommodations for visitors who cannot attend Sunday visitation.  DJJ shall not exclude visitors from approved visitation lists except for specific circumstances or behaviors that threaten facility security or the physical or mental well-being of the youth, and DJJ shall document the reason for the exclusion.  

Department regulations should provide young people in DJJ custody with the ability to stay connected to people who are their natural positive supports.  These often include extended family, such as uncles, aunts, and cousins; informal family, such as godparents or their parent’s companions; and unrelated people, such as pastors, coaches or teachers.  Parents/guardians and youth should have the opportunity to jointly choose who may visit the youth, including extended family and unrelated people who are important to the youth.

Limits on who may visit are among the most problematic issues for families of young people in DJJ custody.  We have many examples of people who want to visit, but are excluded: the caring uncle who is close to the youth; the parent’s companion who has lived with the youth for years, and who the youth considers a parent or stepparent; the loving godparent who has known the youth since birth; the other parent of the youth’s child, who must wait outside while their child visits.  Sometimes these exclusions mean that a youth gets no visits when immediate family cannot or does not visit.

Ironically, current regulations do not restrict who may visit.  The regulation states that “residents in all juvenile residential programs shall be permitted to have visitors, consistent with written policies and procedures that take into account the need for facility security and order, the behavior of individual residents and visitors and the importance of helping the resident maintain strong family and community ties.”   However, visitation policies at most DJJ facilities explicitly restrict visitation to “immediate family members.”  Although exceptions are sometimes made, they are just that: exceptions.  These policies have the effect of severely limiting youths’ abilities to “maintain strong family and community ties.”

A regulation that limits visitation based only on specific behavior or circumstances will enable DJJ to maintain safety and security while ensuring that young people have access to their natural family and community supports.

Visitation policies also currently set Sunday as the single visitation day each week, although they allow for occasional exceptions.  Young people whose families cannot visit regularly on Sundays should not be deprived of regular visits with them.  In addition, families should not be required to choose between their religious observance and visiting their children.

8.  DJJ shall make every effort to make it possible for families to communicate with youth in custody through visitation and telephone calls, even when youth are in the infirmary or administrative segregation.  

In some facilities, youth who are in the infirmary cannot make or receive phone calls.  Access to family support is especially important for a youth who is ill or injured.

9.  DJJ shall ensure that parents and guardians have access to their children’s records.  

This is covered in § 16.1-300 of the Virginia code.  We include it as a suggested regulation as well because some parents have experienced barriers to accessing their childrens’ records.

10.  DJJ staff shall treat families with professional courtesy, respect, and fairness, regardless of race, religion, national origin, language, economic status, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or age.  Parents and guardians shall be able to speak with their children’s counselor and receive prompt communication from them, including return of phone calls and/or emails within one business day.  

The first sentence adapts the provisions of the current regulation, “Youth are not discriminated against based on race, national origin, color, creed, religion, sex or sexual orientation, or disability,”  to include families.

Unfortunately, many parents and guardians report that their phone calls are not returned, and they are unable to find out important information, such as when treatment team meetings are going to be held.

Thank you for your consideration of these items.

CommentID: 7072