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Kids Doing Time for What's Not a Crime: The Over-Incarceration of Status Offenders

NCJ Number
Marc Levin; Derek Cohen
Date Published
March 2014
12 pages
Using newly available data on youth confined in the United States in combination with previously available juvenile court statistics, this report assesses the Nation's progress in reducing the confinement of status offenders (those youth convicted of engaging in behavior that is not criminal if committed by an adult).
Nationally, the most common status offenses are incorrigibility, running away, truancy, underage drinking, and curfew violations. This report's findings indicate that the Nation has made significant progress in reducing the confinement of status offenders; however, nearly 10,000 youth are still being confined annually in the United States for status offenses. Given the relatively minor harm caused by these offenses and the cost-effectiveness of community-based supervision, the continued confinement of these youth is one of the major shortcomings of the Nation's juvenile justice systems. Four policy measures are recommended. First, family services should be the first option for addressing status offenses when possible. This requires the involvement of educational, mental health, child welfare, and other community services that can strengthen a family's ability to address a youth's problem behaviors. Second, States that allow the secure detention of status offenders under valid court orders should restrict this judicial authority beyond a 24- to 72-hour grace period in instances where the youth has a prior violent non-status offense or another prior non-status offense accompanied by an assessment of a high risk for violence. Third, States and counties should redirect some of the savings from the reduced confinement of status offenders to the support of proven approaches for treating such youth. Fourth, States should re-examine the scope of status offenses in order to ensure that they are not criminalizing conduct that does not warrant criminal sanctions or can be better addressed through other means. 29 notes, 6 tables, and 2 figures