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Juvenile Justice and status offence: enforcement, sentencing and prosecution Term Paper



Yearly, youths are arrested allegedly accused of committing status offences such as being incorrigible, truant, running away from home or involving themselves in underage drinking or drug abuse. More worse is that many of the juveniles involve themselves in violent criminal activities such as street gang, rape, robbery burglary and theft. They end up in the court systems where they face charges of their wrong doings.

There are strong evidences showing that status offenders are at high risk of indulging into more serious criminal activities resulting into their arrest and charged in the criminal justice system. Researches also indicate that those who end up in criminal justice system face abuse and often neglected.

However, the situation in the criminal justice system is different from juvenile justice system because often correctional measures are the main goal in the juvenile justice system. Within the criminal justice jurisdiction, juveniles are considered to be minors and cannot be held responsible for some of the crimes they do commit.

Juvenile justice is primarily a matter of state and is separated from the normal criminal justice system for adults. Though many youths enter into the criminal status offence courts, a number of issues have been raised over the years. This paper will be looking into these issues beginning with the historical background, the current issues and the procedures involved in the status offence proceedings.

Historical overview

There has been a strong belief that juveniles should be treated differently than adults when convicted of an offence more so in the criminal justice system. This belief has been held over the centuries until in the nineteenth century when the distinction was made. Disagreements normally arise on the roles of juvenile courts in determining the type of punishments for the status offenders.

Those who hold the divergent view argue that the authorization of the criminal justice for such offenders is unjustified since they are not aged enough for the punishments (Elrod and Ryder, 2011). On the contrary, there are those who hold that the court system established for the purposes of enhancing juvenile discipline is warranted.

The argument is that such a system is essential in promoting security and safety within the society as well as towards the children. Despite the fact that differences exist between the juvenile and criminal court system procedures, there are established laws that ensure control over the proceedings of juvenile status offences as well as juvenile delinquents. These laws have been continuously improved over the years.

Current situation

The increase in the number of serious juvenile criminal activities and status offences made thousands of youths transferred from juvenile justice system to adult’s courts every year. Though, in some states the transfer was automatic for some offences, different laws were applied for different cases.

The variations in the applicability of these laws also existed in different states. The reassignment of the juveniles was at its peak in 1980s and 1990s. Most states distinguished juvenile crimes that were transferable and the status offences that were dealt with within the juvenile justice system. Elrod and Ryder (2011) assert that crimes such as murder, aggravated assault, rape, robbery were automatically transferable in most states. These laws are still held even today.

However, juvenile conducts that was considered to constitute status offenses also varied with the states. Each state had its own methods of defining and dealing with the status offences.

The common status offences include truancy, violation of state, city or county curfew, underage consumption or in possession of alcohol, underage possession or use of tobacco and other drugs, abandoning or running away from home and un-governability or being beyond the control of the parents (Moore, 2003). These juvenile offences are dealt with within the juvenile justice system and in most cases correctional measures are taken against such offences.

Penalties for status offence

Status offenders who end up in juvenile court may receive different kinds of penalties depending on which state the offenders come from. There are common penalties that are being impost in almost every state. Some of these include burning juvenile from driving, paying restitution or fine for the offences, assigning the juvenile a caretaker apart from the parent and sending the juvenile to after school educational programs or counseling sessions (Hess, 2009).

In situations where juveniles cannot be controlled, courts may require that the juveniles be detained in locked and secure facilities. In cases where parenting is the main cause of the juvenile delinquent behavior, parents may be required to attend parenting classes or counseling sessions together with the juvenile.

The most controversial is the curfew violations. The main reason is because of the local establishment of the curfew laws, normally, within the counties or cities. Curfew laws are aimed at containing juvenile crimes and maintaining peace within the county or the city. According to Hess (2009), Curfew regulations are primarily instituted to forbid those under the age of eighteen from public places particularly during certain hours.

Dealing with curfew violations depends with the locality within which these set of laws are being imposed. McCord et al. Crowell (2001) argue that the controversy centers a round the juvenile First Amendments that give minors the freedom of speech and association. Though few curfew laws have been held unconstitutional according to the first amendment, many have remained unchallenged in the court.

In some authorities the curfew delinquents are not taken directly to the courts. In many occasions they are brought in a central place where they are picked by there parents or guardians. Often, it is within the discretion of law enforcers to pick the minors and take them home or to issue alerts.

In case there is a violation of these measures the minors may be forced to face fines or enrolled in after school programs. Sometimes the minors are forced to take compulsory community service and only extreme cases where the minors may end up in juvenile courts. Parents who knowingly allow their children to violate the curfew laws are also subjected to fines (Moore, 2003).

There is strong evidence showing that truancy is the major status offence in the juvenile system. Furthermore, truancy and future delinquency are directly correlated with majority of the minors who are involved in the truancy cases end up in future serious delinquent behaviors.

Therefore, truancy has been conceived as a serious status offence and tough measures have been put in many states to counter the offence. Truancy is a case where the minor have arbitrarily skipped school without a proper reason or without the knowledge of school administration or the parents. States and schools apply different methodologies in determining truancy in children. Most often, absenteeism for more than three days are considered as truancy.

Schools have always been put in the forefront in dealing with truancy cases and sometimes given the powers to refer cases when they deem necessary to the juvenile court. Moreover, the police are legally allowed to detain truant children who are out of the school compound. In cases where parents are found guilty of there children truancy, they are held accountable and fines are imposed on such kind of parents or at times jailed (McCord et al., 2001).

Delinquency proceedings

Variations in juvenile justice system exist among the states despite the fact that they have common features. Parents are often notified of their children delinquent behavior or of their status offences before they are taken into custody. Those minors who end up in custody are separated from adult offenders.

Most of the states require that notification of the minor arrest be given to the parents, guardians or the caretaker of the minor before the minor is taken into custody. In most cases arrested juveniles are taken to detention centers where they will be interviewed by the intake worker as they await trials. The role of the intake worker is to find the reason for the minor behavior and to determine whether the case should be dismissed, go for full trial or handle by the social worker and the family (Elrod and Ryder, 2011).

Most of the status offence cases are informally settled or are dismissed after the hearing. In some cases, the intake worker may decide that the case proceed to full trial and forwards the information to the prosecutor. In such a situation, parents and the juveniles have full rights to legal representation as well as the right to hear any pending charges (Elrod and Ryder, 2011). They also have a right to attorney whom they are assigned in case they cannot afford one.

Unlike in adult criminal cases, youthful offenders cannot be made to testify against themselves and therefore the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the crimes. Similarly, the prosecutor must present convincing evidence and the offenders have the right to respond to the evidence.

The offenders also have the right to question the witnesses. However, juveniles cannot be exposed to jury trials and their files are sealed or kept private (Elrod and Ryder, 2011). In addition, court proceedings for the minors are held separately from the adult court rooms.

In case the minor offenders are found guilty of their acts they are not sentenced directly. Instead they face another hearing where the probation officer takes the opportunity to prepare finer details of the juvenile background.

During this stage, various tests are done such as drug tests, alcohols tests, learning disabilities as well as mental health checks. With all the detailed reports the sentencing hearing then begins. During the sentencing hearing, the judges have the obligation take into account the effects of the offender’s crime on the immediate family members (McCord et al., 2001).


There are many sentences open to the judges. The most commonly used are probation, fines, use of correctional facility or foster homes, community service, social skills classes and mental health programs. Many occasions, judges use a combination of these treatments. The worst sentence the judge can offer to the delinquent juvenile is confinement to the secured reform facility (Elrod and Ryder, 2011). The minor is confined in the facility for the duration of the entire sentence.

The reason being they resemble the adult prison facilities. Since the juvenile offenders are sentenced to these confinements for serious crimes, they normally remain in these facilities until the age of eighteen. However, most states recommend that juvenile courts keep control over the offenders even after eighteen years. In some states violent offenders are transferred to adult prisons especially when they are at least sixteen years of age.

Status offence should be maintained

The creation of juvenile justice framework has been applied to protect the younger people from both future and present injuries. Despite many arguments for the reformation of status offence, those who support reformation lack proper understanding of the development and decision making of the adolescent.

Right from its origins, juvenile justice system has represented many varying disciplines including the judicial, psychological, and medical disciplines in the determination of appropriate treatment for status offenders. Arguably, the ascertained evidence forms a just ground for juvenile offences. It would appear absurd to make a move that will interfere with the delivery of appropriate justice to these offences as subsequent arguments on the most common offences suggest.

Running away

Running away from parental custody exposes a child to very unpredictable environment which always works against his/her proper development (Steinhart, 1996). Most of these children have suffered constant sexual and physical abuse, alcohol and drug abuse as well as other violent family environments.

However, it is not just for them to consider running away as the only solution since they have no resources to enable them live alone. The situation is heightened by the fact that many runaways have ended up being homeless which materialize to be a big problem to them. These children are surrounded by higher risks for health and emotional problems as the situation drags them to health counteracting behaviors such as drug use and sexual activities.

Indeed, there are laws established to protect runaway children and remove them from harmful situations. For many years the enactment of National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has resulted in many programs being developed to counteract the runaway offence before it becomes too dangerous for the child.

The programs are in place to assist the youths who might be acting against their will. More important are the rules that do not allow any child to free parental custody in an effort to protect these delicate lives. All these legal efforts have considered the welfare of the children based not only on protecting the young ones from the present harm, but even the future. There is no good evidence that abolishing the runaway offence would reduces the offences or promise a better future as the critics tend to argue.

School absenteeism

One of the best and long-term gifts the parents and the state would give to a child is proper education. Young children are not conscious about the importance of going to school and are everybody’s responsibility to see them through their schooling career. Truancy or absenteeism from school with no proper reason is an offence that a child should be punished for in order to secure his/her future. In fact long-term studies have revealed the relationship between the offence and delinquency in later years (Elrod and Ryder, 2011).

Victims also exhibit antisocial behaviors, acquire low status jobs, and their working trend is unstable. While these factors reveal the importance of completing the school life continually, there is an intrinsic call for everyone to save these children and a pity to those who present individualized reasons to abolish the offence.

Furthermore, the government has established detailed policies that prohibit the young ones from committing the crime. Most people are aware of the impacts of these laws in shaping the life of the children and thus shaping the future of the country. The regulations achieved the initial purpose that led to their establishment and saw all children out of the labor market, integrated immigrants, and afforded children protection from the dangers of the workplace and streets.

So far, the regulations have allowed children to further in education which also benefit the society when the cohort of intellectuals is added. With such achievements, it beats logic to think of abolishing an offence whose regulations enhance the welfare of the whole community.

Sexual behaviors

Young people have many places that they can get knowledge from apart from schools. And the teenage being a period of social growth, adolescents are constantly learning from life experiences as well as from their environments. Unlike the adults, these young people do not possess the necessary experience to behave on their own.

Therefore, the sexual behavior offense is contained in the legal system in order to protect the children from unintentional mistakes that can affect their future. This is an age when the important body changes take place and is a challenge to cope with the situation emotionally.

According to experts, the unstable emotions lead some teenager to come up with decisions regarding sexual behaviors (Elrod and Ryder, 2011). To their disadvantage they are emotionally not prepared to understand the full impacts that sex may pose and they automatically need help from the adults and the government to evade the consequences.

The adolescence age is also the period for moral development and the youths constantly learn the relationship with others and the family. This stage of moral development is imperative to ensure the youths maintain social order. As they approach maturity, the young people feel the bond with the society and develop a personal moral code.

While this stage is important in shaping the young people, they become more prone to other external influences. It reaches a time that the parents’ supervision cannot carry the weight of the child and status offence becomes the best control for the child from entering into sexual behaviors.

One impact of teenage sexual behavior is teenage pregnancy. Present statistics indicate that ten percent of teenage girls are pregnant, reason being their inability to make proper decisions and plan contraception adequately (Ventura andHamilton, 2011). Early pregnancy exposes the mother to health risks as their bodies are not fully developed to bear a baby to full-term.

Emotional immaturity also leads to high suicide rates for pregnant teenage mothers. Accompanying the health risk is the failure to institute a healthy social life as well as economic independence. Early pregnancy will automatically divert psychological and self-knowledge independence to the child and interpersonal relationship completely lacks in both sexes.

Similarly, there are appropriate regulations regarding the sexual behavior are developed in the best manner to protect the children from adverse effect from their immature decisions. They protect them from being violated by rapists and child molesters. These rules also give the parents and guardians a responsibility to protect their children from sexual behaviors.

There is an appropriate law that prohibits adolescents from sexual behaviors and thus protecting them from adverse effects described earlier. Although a large number of cases are about two consenting teenagers, the regulations attempt to protect them from emotional and physical trauma. Everybody acknowledges the importance of these regulations, but many miss the understanding that they only exist because of the defined status offence. Abolishing or transforming will affect these cherished regulations.

Alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption by adolescent has raised a fierce debate in relation to status offences. The present regulations do not allow any youth to consume any kind of alcoholic beverage until the age of 21 years. There are very many reasons that the status offence and the associate regulations should be maintained. First, the skills to make decisions are not fully developed until the age of 18 years and may even extend well beyond that age.

Teenage is a period of emotional change as a result of physical, social, and emotional influences. During this time, the child encounters confusion and feelings of loneliness and may end up in a faulty decision to consume alcohol.

The period is also an important window for the surfacing of behavioral problems that persist in life. Evidence from studies suggests that youths who start to consume alcohol at an early age are likely to become users later in life (Elrod and Ryder, 2011). Thus, the law which is defined b the status offence acts to protect the children and the society from future acts of delinquency and should be maintained.

Conclusion and future directives

Status offences are justified and must not be abolished from the legal system. The juvenile justice system from its early conception has always provided for and protected the children. Status offences are just a demonstration of this responsibility to serve and protect the young people.

Despite much criticism that the system should rethink on how to handle status offences, the established regulations entail guidelines for different disciplines. With respect to the discussed reasons, it becomes clear that the status offence should be maintained in the future to help, protect, and serve the youths. With the enacted regulations and empirical evidence, our juvenile legal framework has achieved much of its aims to fairly protect the children.


Elrod, Preston and Ryder Scott. 2011. Juvenile Justice: A Social, Historical and Legal Perspective. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning

Hess, Kären M. 2009. Juvenile Justice. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

McCord, Joan, Wisdom, Spatz and Nancy Crowell. 2001. Juvenile crime, juvenile justice. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

Moore, Lawrence, V. 2003. Juvenile crime: current issues and background. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Publishers.

Steinhart, David. 1996. “Status offence”. The Juvenile Court 6 (3):86-99.

Tiffany, Rose. 2011. Juvenile Justice and the Status Offense: A Justification for the Current System. Web.

Ventura, Stephanie and Hamilton Brady. 2011. U.S. teenage birth rate resumes decline. NCHS Data Brief, No.58. Retrieved from:

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