Runaway children are still being jailed with juvenile and adult criminals despite a nine-year-old law outlawing the practice, according to the General Accounting Office.
While improvements have been made, a recently-released GAO report said, its survey in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon showed all five states have failed to meet federal standards under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.
The GAO said the Interior Department's National Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Marshals Service also have failed to comply with the law.
About 39 percent of the juveniles incarcerated in the five states had not been charged with a serious offense, as U.S. standards require. Running away from home, shoplifting and other minor thefts were not considered serious crimes in the report. Of 876 runaway cases reviewed, 181 of juveniles had been detained longer than 30 days, often with adults.
The congressional auditing agency said the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which was created in the Justice Department under the 1974 act, had "done little to assist" states and federal agencies. Juveniles arrested by federal agents such as officers of the Park Police for delinquency on federal land are routinely turned over to local authorities for handling, the report said, with the arresting officers "generally having little or no knowledge" of the disposition of the case.