Over the past several months, the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Facility has been in the news. This agency is composed of the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church and the County of Arlington. It is run by the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Commission, whose five members are appointed by the three jurisdictions. It, as its name implies, handles juveniles that must be detained.

Over the past several years, there has been considerable discussion in the Commonwealth over the best way to handle juvenile offenders. Alternatives to facilities such as ours are being explored. The state seems to have an overcapacity of beds and several facilities have been closed. Vice Mayor Justin Wilson has written about this issue twice in his newsletter and has led an effort to examine the facility and its mission.

We are certainly in favor of a proper examination. The facility is not without cost and its occupancy rate is not high. Perhaps there are alternatives that could deliver the needed services in a better way at less cost to Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church. All jurisdictions need to watch their budgets carefully in the current economic environment.

We are, however, more than a little concerned at how the process is proceeding. There seems to be a disconnect among the Council, City staff and the Juvenile Detention Commission. Such a disconnect will make it more difficult to achieve an optimal solution.

For example, the Facility had a contract in place for years to handle unaccompanied juveniles, who were not U. S.  citizens and who were without relatives, referred to them by the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U. S. of Health and Human Services. This was a way to utilize excess space and to save the jurisdictions money. When Council recently discussed the matter, members made statements that the Facility was receiving “children from the border”.  In fact, the children it had received were not from the border and had nothing to do with the current immigration situation. Such statements were pejorative and unhelpful.

When Members of Council seek to make change in a program they need to remember that they are part time without access to all the information. Moreover, we think that making change is an insufficient objective. The real goal should be to make progress providing superior services at less cost. This is very difficult to accomplish.

It is also important to approach the situation cooperatively. All sides must be involved and in agreement at the beginning. If you start out together you have a good chance of ending up together. If you do not the path is much more difficult if not impossible, and the result will be unsatisfactory.