Certain types of offenses apply only to the juvenile context and would not be crimes if an adult engaged in the same behavior. For example, a juvenile might be arrested for violating a local curfew, possessing or consuming alcohol or tobacco, skipping school, or refusing to submit to the authority of a parent or guardian. Penalties for these offenses generally are less severe than the penalties for other crimes. A judge may order the juvenile to pay a fine or restitution, order them to go through counseling or other courses, or order them to live in a foster home or group home instead of living with a parent or guardian. The juvenile also may lose their driver’s license and incur other administrative penalties. They can be detained at a secure facility if they violate a court order. If a parent or guardian of the juvenile is found to have contributed to their behavior, they may be ordered to undergo counseling or parenting programs.
Diverting Status Offenses
While status offenses may seem minor at face value, research shows that they correlate to the probability of a juvenile committing a more serious crime in the future. Thus, state governments have started to channel more resources to addressing them. In many situations, a prosecutor will decide that juvenile court is not the best way to address a status offense. They have the authority to divert a juvenile charged with a status offense to other government agencies, which can provide them with counseling, treatment, and other services. This is thought to produce better results than going through formal proceedings in court and seeking a delinquency finding. A finding that a juvenile is delinquent can undermine their prospects for rehabilitation. Most status offenses that are handled in formal proceedings involve alcohol.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act
There is some correlation between committing a status offense and committing a more serious future crime. Some research suggests that this link is due to underlying issues, such as unmet health or safety needs. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was enacted in 1974 and reauthorized in 2018 in hopes of breaking the link.
Labels attached to status offenders in most states show that they are viewed as juveniles who need care or services rather than punishment. Child welfare programs and community organizations sometimes will intervene, especially if neglect has played a role in the juvenile’s offense. If the juvenile continues to engage in misconduct, though, they may eventually face formal proceedings in court.
Perhaps the most common status offense is truancy. This involves regularly skipping school when a juvenile does not have a valid excuse and does not have the permission of a parent or guardian. The number of permissible unexcused absences varies from state to state. School districts usually attempt to address the problem with the student internally before referring the matter to a juvenile court. However, the police have the authority to detain a juvenile who is found to be a truant. Their parents may face more severe consequences than the juvenile. If they are deemed to have contributed to the child’s truancy, they may even be sentenced to fines and jail time in some states.
Why is Truancy Punishable?
States take truancy very seriously because it is strongly connected to failure in school, which in turn is strongly connected to delinquency.
Some cities or counties set certain hours during which a juvenile is not allowed to be in a public place, unless an exception applies. An exception might involve going to a school activity, or going to work if the juvenile has a job. These laws are meant to reduce juvenile crime, but sometimes they are excessively broad. Some of these laws have survived challenges based on the First Amendment right to freedom of association, but others have not.
Penalties for curfew violations may be minimal in many areas. A police officer may simply give the juvenile a warning or take them back to their family. Or they may hold them at a set location until a parent or guardian comes to get them. Other cities or counties may impose more severe consequences, such as fines, community service, or a driver’s license suspension. It is rare for a juvenile to face confinement in a juvenile detention facility for violating a curfew.
As with truancy, a parent or guardian of a juvenile who violates a curfew may face penalties. These usually would consist of fines rather than jail time.