James River Association

More than one-third of all Virginians rely on the James River and its tributaries for water, commerce and recreation. After generations of nurturing its people, the James River needs nurturing itself. More »

Sports Backers

The Sports Backers produce and support nationally recognized quality sporting events and programs that motivate locals and visitors alike to be more active. More »

Better Housing Coalition

AMAZING things happen when you revitalize a neighborhood. Crime and blight decrease, investment increases and community pride swells. The Better Housing Coalition, a non-profit community development corporation, transforms communities through high-quality, eco-friendly affordable housing. More »


Disrupting Richmond’s School-to-Prison Pipeline

[Semifinalists to this year’s Community Innovation Grant 2.0 have reached the home stretch, with four amazing projects still in the running.]


The Alliance for Unitive Justice (AUJ) has applied for the Community Innovation Grant to support the “Richmond Community Justice Partnership”. AUJ will develop restorative justice programs that utilize circle facilitation for youth involved in crime and deviant acts in the Richmond area.

The facilitation will be used in:

  1. Two high conflict neighborhoods to reduce incidents and arrests
  2. Richmond Public Schools both as an alternative to zero tolerance policies and as a preventative measure
  3. As a part of the Criminal Justice curriculum at Virginia Union University to create a model for education and to assist the Richmond Police Department with their Community Policing program
  4. .

Through a phased approach, AUJ has created an evidence based solution that addresses the school-to-prison pipeline resulting in a replicable model for broad implementation that can break the negative cycle of suspension and incarceration which impact academics, dropout rates and graduation rates. Virginia ranks number 1 in the nation for referring youth to the juvenile justice system.

During the Top 20 presentation to staff AUJ and several collaborators described Richmond’s troubling cost of the number one ranking for youth incarceration: poor quality of life measures such as educational attainment and community stability. Restorative justice practices disrupt this pipeline with cultural shifts toward healing the underlying relationship and conflict dynamic between youth and their peers, families, communities and institutions. AUJ shared results and lessons from the pilot program at Armstrong High School and described the 40 hours of trauma informed training each facilitator completes before leading a group of youth. They also shared the early successes staff has had educating the court system on this program.


During the Top 10 site visit, AUJ brought to life their belief the program would provide tangible coping skills for youth which would then keep families together (by keeping kids out of the justice system and in detention centers far from Richmond), and keep more kids in schools, homes and communities. Robins staff heard from additional partners in the program, Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and the Richmond Police Department (RPD) stated emphatically this program would augment and enhance their community neighborhood outreach program in the East End particularly. Pilot outcomes at Armstrong High Schools demonstrate decreases in suspensions and overall number of incidents and youth arrests reported dropped. The economic impact to the taxpayer of keeping a child in school rather than placing into the justice system is over $13,400. A result is transferring those savings per youth inmate from corrections and courts to other sustainable programs serving youth and families.

Getting to the ART of Change

[Semifinalists to this year’s Community Innovation Grant 2.0 have reached the home stretch, with four amazing projects still in the running.]


Art180 gives young people the chance to express themselves through art and to share their stories with others. Their community innovation grant proposal “Youth Self-Advocacy through Art” would be the first project in Richmond to work with incarcerated youth, trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline, to sharpen their advocacy and leadership skills, share their experiences and visions for change, and mobilize communities to change policy related to this issue. This is a partnership with Legal Aid Justice Center, Richmond’s Juvenile Detention Center and the State of Virginia Agency for Juvenile Justice.

The Center for Public Integrity recently released a report showing Virginia refers more students to law enforcement than any other state, three times the national rate. Richmond ranks among the 10 worst Virginia divisions (out of 133) for rates of suspensions, expulsions, and court referrals, and for race and disability disparities within these disciplinary measures. The pipeline prevents thousands of youth from thriving academically and graduating prepared to succeed in adulthood, contributing to a cycle of poverty and inequality in low-wealth communities of color.

During their Top 20 presentation, the Executive Directors of the core groups highlighted the unique partnerships among public and private agencies. They presented the art program central to the success of the project, which shares content developed by incarcerated teens to educate policy makers and their constituents to eliminate the current school to prison pipeline. Teen voices are the heart of the program, the key to its long term success and a driver of community change and reform. Art180 will use Robins funding to hire staff at Art180 and Legal Aid to manage aspects of the program to elevate those teen voices through access to policy makers.



During their Top 10 site visit, hosted at the Art180 youth space, partners demonstrated the art program to Robins staff with the hands on art experience of screen printing. If successful, the program could empower and transform youth using art as a platform for dialogue with adults, creating impacts and alternatives to the juvenile justice practices currently in place. One of the primary outcomes is to reduce the length of the average juvenile stay in Virginia prisons from 36 months to less than 12 months, which would result in significant social and economic impact for the community. Staff heard testimonials from other proposal partners including law enforcement and the juvenile justice system employees. As a part of the presentation, they distributed handbooks created by the youth. The Richmond Police Department currently uses these handbooks as a training tool for their new recruits. The visit culminated in a conversation with a formerly incarcerated youth who currently works as a program manager with Art180 and Legal Aid Justice Center. By humanizing young people already in the system they have an opportunity to not only change youth negative behaviors but to build momentum for reform.