Safety, Opportunity & Success (SOS): Standards of Care for Non-Delinquent Youth
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 to guide states in implementing policy and practices that:
To accomplish this goal, the SOS Project develops tools, resources and peer leadership to help key stakeholders make reforms to their status offense 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.
- divert youth engaged in status offense behaviors from the courts to connect them to family- and community-based systems of care that more effectively meet their needs; and
- eliminate the use of locked confinement for status offenders and other non-delinquent youth.
Click here to read CJJ's Fact Sheet on the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO), published May 2011.
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 Marie Williams at 202-467-0864, ext. 113 or email@example.com.
Since 1974, the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement of federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) ) has prohibited the incarceration of status offenders and non-delinquent youth involved with the courts, such as children alleged to be dependent, neglected or abused. Embracing this requirement, by 1988 states participating in the JJDPA had reduced status detentions by 95%, nationwide.
In recent years, however, there has been an increase in detentions among this population, signaling a shift away from deinstitutionalization and toward incarceration as a way to address non-criminal youth behaviors, many of which are tied to troubled home environments and unmet mental health and learning needs.
In 2009, with the support of the Public Welfare Foundation, CJJ completed a national survey of the states and issued a first-of-its-kind report that assessed states’ compliance with the JJDPA. Above most other concerns, states cited challenges to DSO compliance, including judges’ over-use and misuse of the valid court order (VCO) exception to the DSO core requirement. Since 1984 the VCO exception to the DSO core requirement has allowed detention of adjudicated status offenders if they violate a VCO or direct order from the court. Use of the VCO is also exacerbated by a real or perceived lack of effective and readily accessible court and detention alternatives for families and the courts.
These findings affirmed a position ratified by the CJJ Council of SAGs in 2008 that calls for a phasing out of the VCO exception, for increased federal resources and supports to help states expand family-connected and community-based alternatives to detention; and for formal juvenile court processes designed to meet the unique needs of status offenders and non-delinquent youth.
The CJJ SOS Project is an extension of these efforts, and will help CJJ, its members and allies, and the states achieve better outcomes for this youth population, their families and their communities nationwide.
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The SOS Project engages three strategies to improve outcomes for youth and their families, as follows:
- Identify and educate key stakeholders about policies and practices that divert status offenders and other non-delinquent youth from formal juvenile court involvement.
- Identify and educate key stakeholders about policies and practices that eliminate the use of locked detention for status offenders and other non-delinquent youth.
- Inform and advocate for local, state and federal policies and practices to support effective family-connected and community-based continuums of service for status offenders and other non-delinquent youth.
1. Judicial Leadership Strategy
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 will identify and elevate examples of judicial leadership on the use of alternatives to court involvement and detention to address behaviors defined as status offenses. This will involve, 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.
2. Knowledge and Information Development Strategy
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 CJJ 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 will be an action guide for judge-conveners, standards for addressing the needs of youth charged with status offenses without court involvement and training curricula.
3. Model Policy Strategy
Under this strategy, CJJ will focus more directly 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. Tools will include policy briefs that analyze, contextualize and measure the effectiveness of current state statutes and proposed legislation in achieving the goals of DSO and producing optimal outcomes for youth, families and communities.
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