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Virginia lawmakers look to reform juvenile crime laws

There is a trend in Virginia that some refer to as the "school-to-prison pipeline." This entails criminally charging minors for acts occurring at school that in the past have only been penalized through an in-school detention. In fact, the Center for Public Integrity reports that in 2015 Virginia lead the nation in criminally charging minors. However, some Virginia lawmakers are making an effort to address this issue.

One lawmaker is planning on sponsoring over 10 pieces of legislation that would reform Virginia's criminal justice system. For example, one bill would increase the base of the value of property taken in cases of grand larceny. Currently that base sits at $200. Under the proposed bill, that number would go up to $1,000.

Some view this change as necessary, because the current law -- which hasn't been revised since 1980 -- makes it so that minors who simply make a poor choice are charged with felonies. For example, stealing a bike under current law would be considered a felony. According to the lawmaker, the punishment for such crimes is too steep.

Another bill, HB 445, would make it so that school principals are not required to report certain types of misdemeanor incidents to law officers. A third bill, would make it so that pupils from preschool through third grade could not be suspended or expelled from school, unless they committed a drug crime or weapons crime. One legislator reports that for this age group, the focus should be on addressing the underlying issues these children face, rather than penalizing them.

Many minors commit juvenile crimes without fully realizing the implications of their actions. These children deserve to be treated just as they are -- as children who have made a mistake -- rather than penalizing them like an adult. Time will tell if any of these measures to reform the juvenile law system will become law. Until then, it is an issue that Virginia residents should follow closely.

Source: wtvr.com, "Va. bills seek to disrupt 'school-to-prison pipeline," Jan. 16, 2018

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