Andy Block of Charlottesville thinks that too many children accused of crime are getting caught up in the adult justice system, only to be handed juvenile sentences when they emerge from court. Block – a much-honored child advocate – will address the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association this morning at the group’s annual convention at The Homestead.
Block questions “whether Virginia is getting what it wanted” when it dramatically changed the juvenile code in the mid 1990s. The changes of the ’90s were designed to see that the “worst of the worst” juvenile offenders were put on trial as adults. Block suggests that the adult-trial net is being cast too broadly.
Block is the Virginia State Bar’s 2007 Legal Aid Attorney of the Year. He is the founder of the JustChildren advocacy project in Virginia and the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Block says that most youths who are convicted in adult court end up being sentenced as juveniles. While that means they get opportunities for education and rehabilitation, they still are branded as adult offenders. The consequences are significant, according to Block.
Young people convicted of felonies as adults lose their right to vote; they are barred from some student loans; they have difficulty finding jobs. If the crime is a sex offense, the young defendant is required to register as a sex offender. “It creates obstacles,” said Block.
“My hope is that, presented with the right information and given the opportunity to consider and discuss the matter, people might think that there is a better way to do it,” Block said.