Use of the Valid Court Order

Research has shown the damaging effects detention or secure confinement can have on children, whether as a detention method pre-court or as a form of punishment after adjudication.  Children who are securely detained are more likely to become more deeply involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system and are more likely to re-enter the criminal justice system than children who participate in community-based programs.  Detention also has a negative and significant impact on many facets of the child’s life.  A child who has been securely detained has a higher likelihood of suffering from physical or mental health problems, struggling in or not completing school and having difficulty in the labor market later in life.1  In addition, placing a child charged with a noncriminal status offense in secure confinement with children who have been accused of serious criminal offenses may expose the child to negative influences and behaviors that could lead to re-entry into the status offense system or entry into the delinquency system.2

Since 1974, the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has provided that youth adjudicated for a status offense may not be placed in locked confinement.3  In 1984, the JJDPA was amended to provide an exception to the DSO core requirement that allows judges to securely confine youth adjudicated for a status offense if the child violated a “valid” order of the court.  (known as the VCO exception)4 While intended to be an exception to the rule, the VCO exception has amounted to “bootstrapping,” as it takes a status offense, protected from secure/locked detention under the JJDPA, and converts it into a delinquent act that is not entitled to the same protection. Federal and local policymakers and advocates should amend the JJDPA to prohibit the use of the VCO exception to securely confine youth adjudicated for status offenses.

CJJ released an Emerging Issues Policy Brief on the Use of the Valid Court Order. The brief examines how the VCO is used in the states.

To learn more about the VCO, go to Section 3.8, Section 4.8, and Section 4.10 of the National Standards of Care for Youth Charged with Status Offenses.


This page was adapted from the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses and the Emerging Issues Brief on the Use of the VCO.

1 Holman, B., et al., (2007) The Dangers of Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other Secure Facilities. Justice Policy Institute, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

2 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Community-Based Alternatives to Secure Detention and Incarceration” in Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders Best Practices Database. Available at:

3 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (Fall/Winter 1995). “Deinstitutionalizing Status Offenders: A Record of Progress.” Juvenile Justice, II (2). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

4 Id.