Performing Statistics brought the voices of incarcerated youth to the General Assembly

by | Jan 11, 2016 | POLITICS

A recent budget hearing ahead of the 2016 General Assembly brought previously unheard voices to one of the most powerful buildings in the state.

A recent budget hearing ahead of the 2016 General Assembly brought previously unheard voices to one of the most powerful buildings in the state.

Mark Strandquist, Director of Performing Statistics Project, stood before the group of politicians. It was his first time ever at the state capital, but he did what he could for those who were unable to speak for themselves.

“Prisons don’t work for our youth, our communities, or our tax payers,” he said, a bit shaky, but confident in his message. He pressed play on a little recorder and the voices of different currently-incarcerated youth played out over the loud speaker.

“We need more counselors in the schools,” read one slightly distorted voice, obviously roughed up by years of hardship. “Communities could use them money they’re spending on locking us up… I got suspended for two months and never went back,” read another.

“Bringing these voices to places where they have been silenced, their humanity excluded,[that’s what is important],” Strandquist said. “but we can use our power, our privilege, to bring those voices to those spaces.”

The display before last Thursday’s budget hearing aimed to put new funds behind community programs for troubled youth and overhaul the current system with input from incarcerated youth, their families, and advocates.

In a press release about a new bond package for a wide range of economic and development projects in the Commonwealth, Gov. Terry McAuliffe included “transforming Virginia’s approach to juvenile corrections” among priorities like services for veterans and updates for State Parks.

According to the release, McAuliffe set aside $90.5 million “to build two new juvenile correctional centers to allow juveniles to be closer to home to enhance family interaction.”

Strandquist and the folks at Performing Statistics were excited to see the issue make the Governor’s radar, but the possibility of new “correctional centers” lead to some concern. Either way, the group wants to make sure the process is transparent and brings many voices to the table.

After being awarded a $500 thousand grant from the Robins foundation, Art 180 is poised to turn the Performing Statistics project into a change maker at the capital, and bringing youth voices to the Budget hearing was the first step.

The voices themselves were collected over the summer as some incarcerated youth were brought to the studios of WRIR LP-FM and given the chance to talk about what they wish would happen to a system the’ve been thrust into (admittedly by their own accord).

You can hear some of the audio records here, just click through the “being your tour” button to get to the voices.

Statistics around youth incarceration in Virginia, according to Strandquist and other activists, show the current system is not working:

About 78% re-arrest rate and 73.5% re-conviction rate according to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice

In FY 2014, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) spent $150,994 to incarcerate one youth for one year in a juvenile correctional center, approximately $413.68 per day. Meanwhile the state spent about $11 thousand per student per year in public school in 2013.

2009, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators reported that the majority of states had average lengths of stay ranging from 6 to 12 months.12 Virginia’s average length of stay for all juveniles is 18.7 months and the average length of stay for indeterminately committed juveniles is 16.1 months.

“That’s a horrible investment in our eyes and we think Virginia can do a lot better,” said Strandquist. “Beyond statistics and stereotypes, I think its hard for people to argue that seeing people as human beings is the first step too understanding, but also seeing their promise and potential, and really investing in that.”

The 2016 budget will take time to hammer out, but we’ll keep up with Performing Statistics as they hope to add voices to the process.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is the former editor of GayRVA and RVAMag from 2013 - 2017. He’s now the Richmond Bureau Chief for Radio IQ, a state-wide NPR outlet based in Roanoke. You can reach him at

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