In West Virginia, detention for unexcused school absences often has meant appearing before a magistrate and ultimately being locked up, for five unexcused absences in an entire school year. One in three children was considered truant in 2012, while 40 percent of juvenile court referrals were for truancy. The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports that after an aggressive campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union, legislators voted to ease the law, perhaps the strictest in the nation.
The ACLU called the campaign “5 Days to Life,” underscoring how youngsters' involvement in the juvenile justice system for five unexcused absences can have impacts extending into adulthood. Among them: collateral consequences in seeking employment, housing or entering the military and increased likelihood of becoming involved with the criminal justice system as an adult. The new law, which takes effect in June, will change the threshold for a court appearance back to 10 days while adding other provisions designed to return more truants to the classroom while keeping them out of the courtroom. West Virginia spends an average of $100,000 per year to incarcerate a child, often in for-profit facilities.