Defining status offenses

Truancy: This usually refers to an excessive number of unexcused school day absences. However, defining what is excessive varies by jurisdiction and is often at the discretion of individual school officials. Some places even count being late to school or missing class as truancy.

Running away: Kids are charged with running away when they leave home overnight without guardian permission. They often face charges even when they have been forced out of their home—which may be better described as being “thrown away” rather than running away.

Ungovernability (or incorrigibility or unruliness): This broad charge category serves as a catch-all for any time kids repeatedly defy directives from parents, guardians, or even legal custodians (such as teachers), and it often encompasses other status offenses.

Underage drinking: As the term implies, underage drinking refers to the consumption of alcohol by youth under the age of 21. Depending on the state, underage drinking can be charged as either a status offense or a delinquency (an act that adults could be prosecuted for in criminal court, but are under juvenile jurisdiction when committed by a kid). Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, “Statistical Briefing Book Glossary,” https://perma.cc/84N6-PQSM. States also have varying definitions of when kids are allowed to drink—such as under parental supervision or on private property.

Curfew violations: This refers to ordinances that prohibit kids under a certain age from being in public or a business establishment during specified hours. These laws vary by locality and may also shift at specific times of the year. Curfew enforcement is dependent on the officer, and violations tend to occur in communities with more low-income families and higher levels of policing. Richard D. Sutphen and Janet Ford, “The Effectiveness and Enforcement of a Teen Curfew Law,” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 28, no.1 (March 2001), 55-78, http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2704&context=jssw; Sana Johnson, “What City Leaders Should Know About Curfews for Minors,” National League of Cities (April 28, 2016), https://perma.cc/Q8QU-YATL. 

*Some states report status offense cases under a “miscellaneous” category, but what behaviors fall under this category varies by state, judicial district, and even courtroom. In 2014 (the most recent year of national data), about 9 percent of reported status offenses fall under miscellaneous. See Sarah Hockenberry and Charles Puzzenchera, Juvenile Court Statistics 2014 (Pittsburgh: National Center for Juvenile Justice, April 2017)