- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

State budget cuts are forcing some of the youngest criminals in Virginia and elsewhere in the country out of counseling programs and group homes and into juvenile lockups.

Though critics say the moves are shortsighted and will lead to more crime and higher costs, Gov. Tim Kaine’s office said such an analysis misinterprets the situation.

“It’s not like we’re going to say, ‘OK, let’s close a juvenile detention center,’ or something like that,” said Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine, a Democrat. “We have to reduce spending across the state, and the governor looked at suggestions and recommendations from all departments. He certainly realizes that all of these reductions have consequences. The idea is to limit the damage as much as possible.”

Virginia is losing behavioral services staff and a facility that prepares children to go home after serving time, along with smaller camps and community programs.

Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky also are among states that have cut juvenile justice spending - in some cases more than 20 percent - because of slumping tax collections.

Youth advocates say they expect the recession will bring more cuts next year in other states, hitting programs that try to rehabilitate children rather than incarcerate them.

“If you raise a child in prison, you’re going to raise a convict,” said South Carolina Juvenile Justice Director Bill Byars, credited with turning around a system once better known for warehousing children than counseling them and teaching them life skills.

Now, he’s working on a plan to help trim an additional 15 percent from a juvenile justice budget, which has already been cut $23 million, or 20 percent, since June as part of the state’s effort to pare $1 billion from its $7 billion budget.

All five of the system’s group homes, which generally house less-violent offenders, have been shuttered. Also gone are some intensive youth reform and after-school programs in detention facilities.

Kentucky is nixing a boot camp-style program developed by the National Guard.

The picture isn’t as bleak everywhere. In New York, where the population of jailed juveniles has declined as the state moves toward a more community-based approach, Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, has proposed closing six youth facilities and consolidating and downsizing others that aren’t being fully used to save $12 million in 2009-10 and $14 million in 2010-11.

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