Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses: New Report Calls for Services and Support, Not Prosecution, for Young People Exhibiting These Behaviors

New York, NY (December 9, 2013) – Every year in the United States, thousands of young people end up in court for running away from home, skipping school, and engaging in other risky behaviors that are only prohibited due to their age. Responding to these cases, called “status offenses,” in court can lead to deeper juvenile justice system involvement, including detention or placement in a residential facility—outcomes that are out of proportion to the young people's actions.

Courts are not equipped to assess or address the underlying circumstances at the root of this misbehavior, and punitive sanctions can do more harm than good.

In an effort to keep young people out of the courtroom and provide them and their families with appropriate, community-based supports and services, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) today published a white paper titled From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses. Later this week, Vera will also launch the online Status Offense Reform Center (SORC) as a resource to policymakers and practitioners.

Supported by funding from the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership, the white paper aims to raise awareness about status offenses and spur conversations about how to effectively handle these cases by citing several promising examples of state and local reform.

SORC will help states and localities develop useful community-based responses to young people charged with status offenses. The site will provide tools for planning, implementing, and sustaining a reform process; host webinars, podcasts, and a blog exploring the latest research and lessons learned from the field; and run a helpdesk to provide additional information.

“As communities across the country strive to safely divert young people from the juvenile justice system, there is no better place to begin than with children whose behaviors are problematic, but certainly noncriminal in nature,” said Annie Salsich, director of Vera’s Center on Youth Justice. “We believe that this white paper and the Status Offense Reform Center will shed light on an often overlooked issue and help lead to better responses to and outcomes for young people and their families.”

In 2010, approximately 137,000 status offense cases were handled by the courts. In more than 36 percent (nearly 50,000) of those cases, the most serious allegation was truancy. New solutions are needed, and by implementing immediate, family-focused alternatives to court intervention, communities across the nation have begun to reduce family court caseloads, lower government costs, and provide meaningful and lasting support to children and families. Families have the potential to resolve problems without the courts. They simply need guidance and support to do so.