Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation, the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act of 2014, to reform the juvenile justice system and eliminate a loophole that leads to the detention of youth for so-called ‘status offenses.’ Following a forum on the juvenile justice system hosted by Senator Casey he unveiled legislation to limit rule that permit states to place youth status offenders in detention facilities. Earlier this year, Casey held a viewing of the Kids for Cash documentary where he revealed his plans to introduce a reform bill. As bipartisan consensus for legislation to reform the juvenile justice system emerges Casey’s bill would seek to take a significant step toward closing the so-called ‘school to prison pipeline.’
“The Kids for Cash scandal that came to light in Northeastern Pennsylvania was a wakeup call for our justice system,” Senator Casey said. “We simply cannot accept a system that puts non-violent youth offenders on a on a path to a lifetime of incarceration. This legislation will take appropriate steps to reform the juvenile system make it smarter, more just and fairer.”
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. The Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act of 2014 would prohibit states from detaining youth for status offenses, in favor of responses that better address the causes of this behavior.
Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act of 2014
- Eliminates the use of the so-called “valid court order” (VCO) exception that currently permits states to place youth status offenders in secure detention facilities.
- Provides one year for states currently using the VCO exception to come into compliance with the Act, as well as an additional year for states that can show hardship and good-faith effort.
- Provides procedural safeguards for states phasing out use of the VCO exception to ensure that youth are not being unnecessarily placed in secure detention facilities.
Why is this needed?
- According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the VCO exception was used to detain status offenders over 8,000 times in 2010, with minority youth, girls and LGBT youth disproportionately affected.
- The United States incarcerated nearly five times more children than any other nation in the world. Sixty-six percent of youth who are incarcerated will never return to school.
- Studies show that locked confinement does not address the underlying causes of this type of behavior, and could even exacerbate those causes by exposing youth to negative influences and making them fall further behind in school.
What is the history of the valid court order exception?
- The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, the first comprehensive piece of juvenile justice legislation, included as a core mandate the deinstitutionalization of status offenders – the “DSO” requirement.
- However, in 1984 the JJDPA was amended to allow judges to issue detention orders in status offense cases if the offense violated a valid court order. Since this amendment, the VCO exception has been used to institutionalize over 1,000 youths each year.
- A number of states have already outlawed the VCO exception, with 28 states and territories reporting no uses of the VCO exception in FY2013.
- In 2009 in a bipartisan vote, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary approved legislation to reauthorize of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that would have eliminated the VCO exception.
Who supports eliminating the valid court order exception?
Elimination of the VCO exception is supported by many leading youth and juvenile justice organizations, including the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, National PTA, American Civil Liberties Union, Children’s Defense Fund, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, Center for Children’s Law and Policy and many others.