Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) announced that they have introduced legislation, the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act, which would reform the juvenile justice system and bar the detention of juveniles for so-called ‘status offenses.’ Currently juveniles can be detained for status offense crimes like truancy but Casey and Paul’s bill would end the practice. Earlier last year, Casey held a viewing of the Kids for Cash documentary where he first discussed his plans to introduce the reform bill. The legislation has been included as part of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) reauthorization increasing the likelihood that the measure will become law.
“Our criminal justice system is in need of major reforms, especially for our youth,” Senator Casey said. “We simply cannot accept a system that puts non-violent youth offenders on a path to a lifetime of incarceration. This commonsense legislation will take appropriate steps to reform the juvenile system and make it more just and fair.”
"The over-criminalization problem needs to be fixed immediately, and I am proud to join Sen. Casey today to reform the juvenile justice system in our country,” Sen. Paul said.
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 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 2015
- 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.