Runaways are not supposed to be put in jail, let alone meet adult lawbreakers on the inside, under the 34-year-old federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Year after year, reports the Associated Press, some states disregard key parts of the law with little consequence. Those states include Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Washington in 2006, say documents the AP obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The law provides funds for compliance, money that can be withheld for failure to comply–ranging from $600,000 to $7.5 million annually per state. This is less than the cost of building juvenile lockups and hiring guards trained to work with juveniles.
The U.S. Justice Department will not name the noncompliant states. “Kids’ lives are literally at stake,” said Liz Ryan of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which lobbies to keep youths out of jail. “They can be harmed in adult jail, they can be harmed in juvenile correctional facilities.” The Senate Judiciary Committee began debating renewal of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 2008. The process will resume in the new Congress. Ryan hopes the Obama administration will help improve the law significantly and release more information gathered under the act.