Juvenile Justice

Published — January 13, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Georgia’s ‘bootstrapping’ detention of kids for indiscretions

Introduction

Criminal-justice experts in Georgia say that locking up kids for indiscretions like repeat truancy, running away, even underage smoking, could end up costing that state millions in federal aid if these policies aren’t halted.

Read about this detention philosophy, called “bootstrapping,” in a story posted by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange in Georgia.

The JJIE story cites an expert report commissioned by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, which you can read here.

As the JJIE’s story describes, some Georgia judges resort to ordering confinement for juveniles if kids fail to comply with a court order to stop a status offense, which is an offense only because a juvenile, not an adult, committed it. These infractions can range from drinking to violating curfews.

Since 1974, Congress has blocked states from locking up kids for more than just a few hours before or after a court hearing on a status offense. An exception allows longer jail time for violating court orders. In Georgia, however, experts found that an increasing number of kids have been confined for failing to stop behaviors as minor as running away. Some judges have even confined kids to help them escape abusive homes or to give them shelter, the report found.

But federal law’s intent is to shield kids who haven’t committed real crimes from sharing detention space with serious young offenders, experts said. And Congress, they said, is poised to possibly tighten up allowances to allow confinement of status offenders. A number of states already forbid such confinements.

Georgia “is putting status offenders in a position to learn from the more criminally sophisticated juvenile delinquents and thus become delinquents themselves,” experts concluded. If federal law specifically prohibits jailing status offenders, they said, the state could risk losing about $2 million dollars a year in juvenile federal aid.

The JJIE story and the expert report delve more into the problem and possible solutions at the state level, where an overhaul of juvenile-justice law is pending.

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