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Juvenile Status Offenders - Separation Of Noncriminal Conduct From Delinquent Conduct

category child supervision delinquency

In 1961, the California legislature was the first to remove noncriminal conduct from its delinquency definition. The new section 601 of its Welfare and Institutions Code, relating to the status offense child, was differentiated from section 602, the delinquent child. Section 601 sought to eliminate or otherwise make more difficult the commitment of a status offense youngster to a state delinquency institution.

Legislative reforms regarding status offenders often took place within a context of broader concerns and reforms of juvenile justice. The California legislature enacted copious code revisions due to concerns over the sweep of juvenile court jurisdiction, the unbridled discretion of officials, the absence of legal safeguards, excessive locking-up practices, and the stigma that flowed from being a court youth. California revisions were a harbinger of what was to follow.

A year later, New York took a related action. It created a new status offense category entitled "persons in need of supervision" (PINS), and prohibited commitment of these youths to delinquency institutions, though a shortage of alternative resources later led to an amendment that reauthorized such commitments.

Illinois created a separate category in 1965, "minor otherwise in need of supervision" (MINS). Colorado followed suit in 1967 with "child in need of supervision" (CHINS), joined by Florida, which chose the same title but the acronym CINS. In time, virtually every state moved in this direction. Georgia enacted the separate category of "unruly child," New Jersey followed suit with "juvenile in need of supervision" ( JINS), and Montana named its new category "youth in need of supervision" (YINS). Several states, such as Pennsylvania and Florida, eliminated status offenses from their delinquency definition, rejected creation of a separate category, and placed these matters within the scope of the "dependent child" classification.

The dependency label, like the subsequently relabeled New Jersey category, "juvenile-family crisis," underscores the view that for status offenders, the family and home, not only the child, must be a focus of assessment and attention. It is known, for example, that numerous runaways escape for sexual or physical abuse; accordingly, they are better perceived as victims rather than as offenders.

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