Status offenses are not crimes, but behaviors prohibited under law because of a youth’s status as a minor. The five most common behaviors that are designated as status offenses are skipping school, acting out, running away, underage drinking, and violating curfew.

For a lot of kids, these behaviors can be a normal part of adolescent development, which is a time of exploration and risk-taking, often marked by being impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure. But in other instances, they can signal underlying problems that need closer attention. Yet, when families, schools, and communities don’t know what else to do—and tensions are running high—they call on the justice system to step in.

Turning to the juvenile justice system to handle these cases can have negative consequences. Many places nationwide lack options to divert, screen, and assess kids who exhibit these behaviors, often leaving justice system actors with no options to keep kids at home and in their communities. The result: kids charged with status offenses may be arrested and can end up in locked facilities, which further exacerbates the circumstances that drive their behaviors. This approach is not only costly in terms of justice system expenses, but also serves to further criminalize underserved kids who are often subject to harsh biases and discipline, including girls, kids in poor communities, kids of color, and LGBT/Gender Non-conforming (GNC) youth.

Thankfully, there is good news on this front. Many places are now recognizing the value of rethinking their approach to status offenses, with the aim of keeping these kids out of their juvenile justice systems entirely. These community-based approaches have led to reduced court caseloads, lower government costs, and more meaningful and lasting support to children and families in their communities.

Vera’s Status Offense Reform Center (SORC) has been a critical resource for policymakers and practitioners across the country as they embark on these reform efforts. Specifically, SORC offers three primary types of support:

  • Resources and tools: We help educate the field about why punitive responses to these types of behaviors are not effective and share knowledge about promising practices and research to support a more community-based approach.
  • On-the-ground assistance: We help states and localities interested in decriminalizing adolescent misbehaviors and reorienting other systems and communities to better support kids and families. We look closely at how systems are currently operating and help facilitate system-wide conversations about what is needed outside of the justice system response.
  • Research and analytic support: We use quantitative and qualitative methods to understand how kids who misbehave interact with youth justice systems and learn more about their long-term outcomes.