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Thousands of Girls Are Locked Up for Talking Back or Staying Out Late [Mother Jones]

Wednesday, September 21, 2016  
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Girl in Juvenile Detention


In 1974, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which instructed states to stop throwing juveniles in secure detention for status offenses. Lawmakers surmised that these kids would be better served by community treatment programs. However, with scarce funding and a lack of community programs, judges were often left sending these youth home with little more than a warning. Many opted instead to bring new charges, like criminal contempt, in order to detain kids anyway.


In 1980, members of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges lobbied Congress to reinstate their formal power to send kids to detention for status offenses. Congress passed an amendment that said if a kid disobeyed the judge’s original requests, or “valid court orders,” the judge kid put the kid in detention. While many states have since closed this loophole, 26 states still use it. As a result, the portion of juvenile detainees who are locked up for status offenses and technical violations sits around 25 percent.


In addition, over the last 30 years, the percentage of girls in the juvenile justice system for status offenses has dramatically increased due to gender bias and “judicial paternalism”. In 2013, girls were almost twice as likely as boys to be in detention for simple assault and other nonviolent offenses. Black and LGBTQ girls are even more likely to face status offenses – the likelihood of black girls being found guilty for a status offense is almost three times greater than it is for white girls, and roughly 41% of LGBTQ girls in detention are there for status offenses as opposed to just 35 percent for straight girls.


Today, juvenile and family court judges are pressuring Congress to close the loophole they helped open. The profession has largely reversed its original position because of ample evidence proving that detention hurts kids. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has been reauthorized by the Senate and sent to the House. If the house can’t agree on and reauthorize a version of this bill by the end of the year, they’ll have to start from scratch in January.


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