Based on a literature review, this paper discusses the nature and prevalence of status offenses, offender characteristics, Federal law aimed at preventing the institutionalization of status offenders, their processing by the juvenile justice system, and evaluation evidence for programs intended to address the problem behavior of status offenders.
A status offense is a non-criminal act that can warrant intervention by the justice system only when the act is committed by a minor. Typical status offenses are truancy, running away from home, violating a curfew, under-age use of alcohol, and general opposition to behavioral management by family and school. States have formulated differing approaches in defining status offenses and managing status offenders. This paper divides States' approaches to status offenders into three categories: status offenders as delinquents, as neglected/abused dependants, and as a separate legislative category. Since status offending is often a sign of personal, familial, community, and systemic problems, it can be viewed as a significant behavioral pattern that can evolve into more serious delinquent behavior. Thus, it should receive some type of intervention designed to prevent delinquency. There are a number of programs designed to address the problem behavior of status offenders. Some are designed to prevent and intervene in status-offending behavior directly, and other programs target problem behaviors in general. Types of programs examined for their effectiveness are ecologically based family therapy and aggression replacement training in a runaway shelter. Overall, evaluations of various types of interventions for status offenders have shown a small negative effect for formal juvenile justice processing compared to well-designed programs that divert status offenders from formal processing. Federal legislation mandates that States receiving Federal funding should separate juvenile and adult offenders in incarceration facilities and proceed to de-institutionalize status offenders. 42 references
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