Twenty-six states allow children to be detained for repeated nonviolent “status offenses” such as skipping school, running away from home or possession of alcohol, says a Coalition for Juvenile Justice report quoted by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. In 1974, the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) stipulated that in states receiving federal juvenile justice grants, no child should be locked up for such minor transgressions. They're called status offenses because they are considered crimes only because of a youth's status as a juvenile. The JJDPA provision calling for “deinstitutionalization” of status offenders had led to a marked decline in detention of these youths.
The JJDPA was amended in 1980 to allow judges to confine a youth adjudicated guilty for a status offense if the child had violated a “valid court order” not to repeat the offense. The new report found that most of the cases of children being detained for status offenses occurred in just a handful of states. The coalition’s Naomi Smoot said some states include catch-all provisions that apply to behaviors that are illegal only for minors, while other states use status offense laws to deal with new and emerging issues uniquely applicable to children such as bullying and sexting. The findings come amid growing opposition to incarcerating children for status offenses because doing so endangers them, can cause long-term trauma or further involvement with the justice system.