Safety, Opportunity & Success Project

The CJJ “Safety, Opportunity & Success (SOS): Standards of Care for Non-Delinquent Youth,” (“SOS Project”) is a multi-year partnership that engages State Advisory Group (SAG) members, judicial leaders, practitioners, service providers, policymakers, and advocates. The SOS Project aims to guide states in implementing policy and practices that divert status offenders from the courts to family- and community-based systems of care that more effectively meet their needs. The SOS Project also seeks to eliminate the use of locked confinement for status offenders and other non-delinquent youth.

To accomplish this goal, the SOS Project develops tools, resources, and peer leadership to help key stakeholders reform the treatment of youth at risk for and charged with status offenses in their juvenile justice systems. The project builds on more than two decades of CJJ leadership to advance detention reform and promote detention alternatives that better serve court-involved youth, including youth charged with status offenses.

The SOS Project is made possible with the generous support of CJJ’s more than 1,800 members nationwide and the Public Welfare Foundation. For more information, please contact CJJ Deputy Executive Director Lisa Pilnik at 202-467-0864, ext. 111 or [email protected].

Learn more about the SOS Project, as well as information about trainings and media coverage of the SOS Project.

National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses

As part of the SOS Project, CJJ has created the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses. The National Standards aim to promote best practices for this population, based in research and social service approaches, to better engage and support youth and families in need of assistance. Given what we know, the National Standards call for an absolute prohibition on detention of status offenders and seek to divert them entirely from the delinquency system by promoting the most appropriate services for families and the least restrictive placement options for status offending youth. You can find the full text of the Standards, a list of endorsements, additional content about the issues covered in the Standards, and information about requesting training in the National Standards section of this website. You can read an overview of the National Standards here.

Judicial Leadership

A growing number of judges in jurisdictions where the VCO exception is allowable are choosing not to securely detain youth alleged to have committed status offenses. Instead, they are leveraging their access and influence to convene practitioners, providers, parents, and other stakeholders to divert youth from the courts and locked confinement and into community-based and family-centered responses that better meet youth and family needs. Like their colleagues in states and jurisdictions that long ago stopped incarcerating youth charged with status offenses, these judges recognize that courts are ill-equipped to independently identify and address the unmet needs that may lead to status-offending behaviors. Building this growing consensus, and the unique influence and access judges have with system actors and policymakers, CJJ identifies and elevates examples of judicial leadership on the use of alternatives to court involvement and detention to address behaviors defined as status offenses. This involves, among other activities, developing profiles of judges who have broken ground in this arena, and distilling the core principles and lessons based on their experiences. Learn more about judicial leadership.

Knowledge and Information Development        

CJJ’s 2008 survey of states on JJDPA compliance identified a need for additional resources for key stakeholders who are committed to implementing the goals of DSO but lack appropriate information and guidance for effective advocacy. To help fill this gap, the SOS Project will develop a number of tools, including trainings and technical assistance manuals, on how to understand DSO, how to advocate for necessary practice and policy changes, and how to implement lasting systems reforms. Among the products developed by the Project are an action guide for judge-conveners, the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses (referenced above), and training curricula.

Model Policy Development

CJJ is also focusing on the identification and development of model state statutes that effectively divert youth and families away from court and confinement, and toward supportive and family- and community-based services. As part of the SOS Project, CJJ released "Status Offense Laws," a model policy guide. It outlines key areas of consideration for states that are attempting to craft new legislation related to status offenses. It also helps policymakers ensure that they have addressed all relevant issues, from pre-court diversion, to provision of programs and services, and a child's right to counsel.