Prohibit Locked Confinement

Section 4.8

State and Local Policymakers and Advocates Should Prohibit the Use of Locked Confinement for Youth Petitioned to Court for a Status Offense

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.1  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)2

As discussed in Section 3.8, research reveals that locked confinement is not an evidence‐based best practice for court-involved youth, especially status offenders. Institutionalization’s many harms begin with removing youth from their families and communities, which prohibits youth from developing the strong social network and support system necessary to transition successfully from adolescence to adulthood.3  Further, for youth who have committed status offenses, detention is ill‐equipped to address the underlying causes of the initial status offense, and fails to act as a deterrent to subsequent status‐offending behavior.4  In addition, placing youth who commit status offenses in locked detention facilities jeopardizes their safety and well‐being, and may actually increase their likelihood of committing unlawful acts.5  Often, detained youth are held in overcrowded, understaffed facilities—environments that can breed violence and exacerbate unmet needs.6

In light of recent research and findings about the detrimental effects confinement can have on youth, a critical mass of states have already prohibited the secure confinement of status offenders under any circumstances and have bolstered their pre- and early court infrastructures to offer families better and more community-based and early intervention services.  In many other jurisdictions, even though the law allows for confinement under the VCO exception, these states have chosen to defund detention beds for status offenders or have instituted policies that restrict the use of those beds for status offense cases.7

1 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.

2 Id.

3 Nelson, D. W. (2008). A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation, p. 9.

4 Id. at 5.

5 Id.; Holman, B., and Jason Ziedenberg. (2006). The Dangers of Detention.  Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute, p. 4.

6 Holman, B. and Jason Ziedenberg,  (2006). The Dangers of Detention. Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute, p. 5.

7 See Szymanski, L. (2011). What is the Valid Court Order Exception to Secure Detention for Status Offenders?  NCJJ Snapshot, 16(5). Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.