NORFOLK, Va. - Advocates are questioning why Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed a bill that would create a work group to examine whether the Department of Juvenile Justice should be overseen by the Secretary of Health and Human Resources instead of the Secretary of Public Safety.
The bill easily passed both chambers during the General Assembly with support from both sides of the aisle.
In a veto explanation, Gov. Youngkin said violent crime involving young people is increasing during the pandemic and called a study like this "unnecessary."
"We must work to make our schools safer, and the rehabilitative services offered by the Department of Juvenile Justice under the purview of the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security ensures young people who commit violent crimes are held accountable and given the resources and education they need to fully and permanently reenter society," his explanation said.
The group RISE for Youth is nonpartisan and focused on developing alternatives to sending children to prison.
"Research shows prisons don’t work for children. In order to truly break the cycles of community harm and resulting incarceration to make our communities safer, we need to address the root causes of young people’s trauma and behaviors by providing a continuum of care that includes community resources that help build healthy communities where youth and families are able to thrive," said Valerie Slater, the group's executive director. Slater says the bill was merely a first step.
The bill's sponsor, Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) said he was surprised the governor vetoed the bill.
"It's not eliminating the agency in any way, shape, or form. It's just looking at the structure and seeing if that's the best place to house it," Hope said Thursday.
Slater was also surprised by the veto. "My stomach sank. It was kind of a little devastating," she told News 3.
She says she'll be pushing lawmakers to override the veto, which they can with two-thirds of members voting in favor. "It would mean that we're looking for the restorative way. We're looking for the way to heal and help children rather than punish them," she said.
When asked for further explanation on the veto, a spokesperson for Gov. Youngkin referred a reporter to the veto explanation.
Youngkin vetoed 26 bills and amended about 100. Lawmakers will return to Richmond later this month to consider his actions.