By Benjamin Chambers, July 14 2010
One of the four core principles of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is that juvenile status offenders not be placed in secure detention. ("Status offenders" are minors who do things that would not generally be a offense if they were adults. For example, truants, runaways, and curfew violators are status offenders.)
However, an exception to the law was made in 1980 to allow courts to detain young people who had committed status offenses if they had also violated a "valid court order" -- the so-called "VCO exception."
As Nancy Gannon Hornberger writes in, "Improving Outcomes for Status Offenders in the JJDPA Reauthorization," which appeared in the summer 2010 issue of Juvenile and Family Justice Today from the National Council of Family and Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), "The nation is split. Twenty-five U.S. states and territories do not allow or do not use the VCO exception; in 30 states [including the territories, and Washington, D.C.], the VCO exception is allowable."
Approximately 12,000 non-delinquent status offenders are locked-up with delinquent youth each year. Serious concerns have been raised about whether such detentions do more harm than good. Juvenile justice practitioners, advocates and members of Congress have responded to these concerns with an amendment to the JJPDA to eliminate the VCO exception.
In her article, Ms. Gannon Hornberger (who directs the Coalition for Juvenile Justice) also summarizes best practices in avoiding detention for status offenders, and for dealing with common status offenses like habitual truancy, running away, and incorrigibility.
For more information about the JJDPA legislation, which is central to juvenile justice policy and to federal funding priorities for juvenile justice programs across the country, check out the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign to reauthorize it.
- Juvenile Justice Reform: Can We Break Free of the Punishment vs. Rehabilitation Argument?
- Want more information about the juvenile justice system and status offenders? See this guide to representing juvenile status offenders from the American Bar Association.
Updated: February 08 2018