The ACLU of Virginia is committed to challenging the criminalization and incarceration of young people, particularly those from disenfranchised communities. Virginia has one of the highest rates of student referral to law enforcement. This trend is largely a result of unfair “zero-tolerance” policies and school policing that disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities. We seek to dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a disturbing trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. 
In 2020, Governor Ralph Northam abolished life without parole for people who committed crimes as children, a step in the right direction in criminal legal reform for young people. We continue to advocate against the use of solitary confinement for all young people in juvenile facilities and in adult jails and prisons. 
Our current approach of mass juvenile incarceration is counterproductive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Institutionalizing youth results in serious social and emotional damage, and it harms prospects for success in the future. Instead, we need laws and policies that provide effective community-based services and support to system-involved young people and their families. 
Did you know?
Virginia schools referred students to law enforcement at a rate (15.8 per 1,000 students) nearly three times the national rate (6 per 1,000 students). (Source: Center for Public Integrity
It costs roughly $148,000 per year to incarcerate one youth in Virginia.