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Juvenile Status Offenders - Current Issues Regarding Status Offenders

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Status offense issues were not a prominent topic in juvenile justice in the early to mid 1990s. Violent crimes committed by youths, particularly homicides and other gun crimes, preempted debate and policy redirection. But certain areas remain a focus of attention.

On the surface, juvenile homicides appear to be a distant issue from noncriminal misbehaviors. But this is not so. Lawmaking bodies have expanded juvenile curfew laws. If juveniles are off the street, troubles are fewer. A violation provides justification for apprehension, if a police officer wants to make an arrest in the absence of a criminal-type law violation. Arrests of juvenile curfew violators increased 21 percent between 1995 and 1996, and 116 percent between 1992 and 1996; nearly three of four arrests involved a boy. What remains to be determined is the extent to which curfew laws reduce criminal conduct, and at what expense in police enforcement.

Another concentration is on the prevention of delinquency. The aftermath of school-related slayings by juveniles, such as the mass murders at Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado, brought a national soul-searching and determination to find ways to strengthen family life and the capabilities of children and youths to lead self- and community-fulfilling lives. Schools have been urged to counsel and refer young people with apparent adjustment problems to youth or family service agencies. Anti-truancy programs have accelerated and police interactions with truants are more visible. Assessment centers and other places where police can take truants, curfew violators, and runaway youths to reconnect with their parents or connect with human service agencies have became more popular. Court proceedings in some form are more likely with juvenile smokers due to extensive concerns over addiction to tobacco.

There is increased interest in early court intervention in the lives of delinquent youths and status offenders. There are more calls to relax the ban on secure confinement of status offenders. The perception that intervention with these youths is an inherent good and will prevent later serious offending is gaining currency again.

Returning to the four Ds, two may be in jeopardy. Diversion of status offenders may occur less. Since criminal courts now handle more serious delinquents, juvenile courts may reopen their doors to more status offenders as these courts search for a revised rehabilitation role. Deinstitutionalization may be jeopardized. Pressures to lock up these status offense youths "for their own good" are very strong. The counterargument—that instead of locking up status offenders, more resources are needed—is an attractive one. But throughout juvenile court history, there have never been enough, much less effective, resources.

Juvenile Status Offenders - Bibliography [next] [back] Juvenile Status Offenders - Status Offender Escalation To Delinquent Offender

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