Status Offenders — No Crime, No Time?

Should children who commit status offenses — failing to attend school, running away from home, being incorrigible, drinking alcohol, etc. — ever be removed from their homes and community, or be in the juvenile justice system at all?  Researchers and advocates argue for the development of better service models in the community to address these behaviors that are often the result of issues with the family or unmet needs of the child without the formality of juvenile adjudications.

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In Indiana, the dispositional options for status offenders are noted at I.C. 31-37-19-1, IC 31-37-19-2, I.C. 31-37-19-3, and I.C. 31-37-19-4.  Children who are alleged to have committed status offenses generally cannot be held in secure detention.  There is a limit of twenty days for a placement in an emergency shelter.  A secure detention center is conceptually like a jail for children with locked doors and significant limits to activities and freedoms.  In contrast, the doors of an emergency shelter must be able to be opened from the inside and they are intended to be a more home-like setting, although this is not always the reality.

In extreme cases, a child who repeatedly commits acts of truancy or leaving home without permission (running away) can be sent to a secure detention center or the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC), if the child has received a written warning of this possibility and commits a new act.  See I.C. 31-37-22.   Juvenile justice advocates are hoping to change the Indiana Code to bar status offenders from being sent to IDOC or secure detention facilities.

Most of the status offense are listed at I.C. 31-37-2.

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