Status offenses, as a legal category, came about close to the turn of the past century. The founding of the nation’s earliest juvenile courts brought with it the matter of establishing their jurisdiction and differentiating the boundaries from that of the traditional criminal court. Having arisen out of the progressive movement, early juvenile courts sought to implement formal social control in order to “marry the means of educational objectives and juvenile detention.”Under the tenets of parens patriae, these courts were empowered to place children under the care of the state if their parents were unwilling or unable to do so. This outgrowth of interventionism led to the establishment of laws seeking to expand the court’s jurisdiction over noncriminal behavior in order to better the youth.
The findings in this report suggest that, as a nation, while we have made significant progress in reducing confinement of status offenders, there remains a great deal of work to be done to shift away from confinement as the means of responding to these behaviors. Although the numbers of status offenders detained or committed to confinement have declined substantially since the year 2001, we estimated that nearly ten thousand youth each year are still being confined in the U.S. for offenses that would not be considered crimes if committed by an adult. Given the non-serious nature of those offenses and the fact that community based alternatives are much less-expensive, more-effective, and avoid the damage incarceration and other types of residential placement does to status offenders, the continued confinement of thousands of youth for status offending represents one of the major shortcomings of the nation’s juvenile justice systems.