Andrew Block Jr. Tapped to Direct Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice
Andrew K. Block Jr., director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law and an attorney who has reformed state law concerning youths, has been named director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the appointment on Friday.
Block will oversee the department's administration and finance, operations, policy and planning, and investigations. The department operates 32 court service units, 24 juvenile detention centers, four juvenile correction centers, and two halfway houses across the state.
"I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and responsibility that the governor has given me," Block said. "While I am sad to be leaving my friends and students here at the Law School, the chance to have a positive impact on the lives of children, families and communities across the Commonwealth is a hard one for someone like me to pass up."
Since 2010, Block has been full-time director of the UVA Law clinic that provides law students with the training and opportunity to represent low-income children involved with, or at risk of involvement with, the juvenile justice system. He has also served as associate professor of law, teaching the clinic's classroom component and other related subject matter.
"I feel truly lucky to have had the honor of teaching here and, whether in the clinic or my advocacy skills class, working with so many talented, creative and compassionate students," Block said.
In addition, Block founded and directed for 12 years the Charlottesville-based JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center. The program, which supervises some of the clinic's students each year, provides direct representation to individual children and families, while also working on a statewide level to improve Virginia's public education, juvenile justice and foster care systems. JustChildren is the largest children's law program in the Commonwealth.
Angela Ciolfi, the current director of JustChildren, said Block's core philosophy about the state's obligations to children will make a difference in his new role.
"Andy believes that whenever our juvenile justice, education and foster care systems take on responsibility for a child, we have a duty to make sure that child exits those systems with a better chance for success than when the child entered," Ciolfi said. "That's a core value he taught me to advocate for as a young lawyer at JustChildren, and that's what I think he'll be driven to do at DJJ."
Under Block's leadership, JustChildren helped secure numerous statewide and local reforms, including laws or policies that: ban out-of-school suspensions for attendance violations and require children leaving juvenile correctional and detention centers to be immediately enrolled in school upon return to their communities; ensure that children leaving juvenile correctional centers receive timely and appropriate mental health services; and provide children with attorneys at initial detention hearings in juvenile delinquency proceedings.
"Obviously as the director of the department I will have to constantly balance the protection of the public and the safety of our staff, with the needs and rights of the young people we serve in a way I have not had to worry about as a lawyer for children," Block said. "But I deeply believe, and the research confirms, that the better job we do of transforming the lives of the young people on probation or in our locked correctional facilities, the safer the public and our staff will be. Rehabilitation and public safety are not mutually exclusive, they are inextricably connected."
Block began his legal career as a public defender in Seattle, where he focused much of his time on representing juvenile offenders and working with TeamChild, a program that combined the efforts of legal aid lawyers and public defenders to improve outcomes for children in the legal system. TeamChild served as the model for JustChildren.
Over the years, Block has received numerous awards for his work, including the American Bar Association Young Lawyer's Division Child Advocacy Award, the Virginia State Bar's Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year and the Virginia Bar Association's Robert F. Shepherd Jr. Award.
Paul G. Mahoney, dean of UVA Law, said the Law School's loss is the juvenile justice system's gain.
"Andy Block is the perfect choice to direct the Department of Juvenile Justice," Mahoney said. "His service to the Commonwealth will be a source of pride to the Law School, although we will miss his daily presence in our community."