In 2008, behaviors like running away, skipping school, and acting out were routinely criminalized, with 1,951 youth being detained for status offenses, likely making the behaviors worse instead of addressing the root cause. As Secretary John Tilley of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet said in 2014, it’s “very negative and damaging for these children who are placed in what essentially are juvenile prisons for not having committed a crime.”
However, in 2017, only 366 youth were detained for status offenses. And while that number is still high compared to other states, the downward trend indicates a significant change in how these cases are handled and how we engage youth who are displaying these behaviors. Continuing to provide safe, trauma-informed services and spaces for youth who run away from home or act out is critical to interrupting the cycle of trauma and detention.
The re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 2018 supports state reform efforts to be smarter in how we respond to children who get in trouble. JJDPA establishes that youth who are found to have violated a court order stemming from a status offense case can only be detained for seven days, if there is no appropriate less restrictive alternative available. Moreover, annual reports must be submitted to Congress detailing the number of status offense cases petitioned to the court, the number of youth detained for status offenses, a justification for the use of detention, and the average number of days youth spend in detention. It helps ensure youth justice systems work more effectively – both for youth and for public safety – because youth need to be held accountable in effective ways that get them on track to become successful adults.
Kentucky has champions like Secretary Tilley and state Senator Whitney Westerfield whose work to improve the commonwealth’s youth justice system has helped transform how we respond when kids get in trouble. If Kentucky continues to support youth more effectively in their homes, schools, and communities, this downward trend in incarcerating youth for status offenses will continue.
To learn more about ending incarceration for youth for behaviors like running away and skipping school, check out our Blueprint one-pager.