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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and U.S. Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA-29) are introducing the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act to keep more children out of detention facilities. Every year, thousands of kids are incarcerated for “status offenses”—acts that would not be considered crimes if they were committed by an adult—like truancy, breaking curfew or running away from home. This incarceration is allowed through the use of the “valid court order” (VCO) exception. The Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act would phase out and then prohibit use of the VCO exception to prevent states from detaining youth for status offenses in favor of responses that better support youth.

“Thousands of children are locked up every year for minor offenses like skipping school. This disproportionate, dated response is hurting young people and does nothing to address underlying issues,” said Senator Casey. “With this legislation, we can change the trajectories of young lives, create safer communities and better support young people going through a difficult time.”

“It’s simply unfair that something like running away from home, skipping school or breaking curfew could land kids in jail,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “I’ve seen young people whose lives are ruined when they go through our prison system and get a criminal record because of ‘status offenses.’ When kids are incarcerated for offenses that would not be even considered a crime if the offender was not a juvenile, it leaves a mark on their permanent record—and their lives. We need to respond to kids in a way that meets them where they are and addresses the root problems of their behavior, rather than treating them like criminals.”

In 1980, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act was amended to allow judges to issue detention orders in status offense cases if the offense violated a valid court order from the judge. Since this amendment, the VCO exception has been used to institutionalize thousands of children each year. This exception has had a disproportionate impact on young people of color, who comprise a higher rate of petitioned status offenses case relative to their population size.

Read more about the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act here.