Just Kids: When Misbehaving Is a Crime
Skipping school, running away from home, violating curfew: these are not actions that most people imagine would land a kid in the juvenile justice system. And yet, every year, thousands of kids across the United States are handcuffed, taken to court, or locked up for just these misbehaviors—often referred to as status offenses—which are only illegal because of a kid’s status as a minor. (Anyone under the age of 18 is subject to status offense charges, but teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 comprise most status offense cases, so those are the kids referred to in this report.)
These behaviors may stem from a variety of factors that can range from normal adolescent development to underlying problems that need closer attention. But when families, schools, and communities don’t know what else to do, they turn to the justice system. Common scenarios that play nationwide include: school officials calling on law enforcement when kids fight in class; police officers taking runaway kids to detention facilities when there is nowhere else to take them; and parents seeking out courts to get help for children they perceive as out of control.