The Pew Charitable Trusts published a new interactive tool that highlights the extent to which states are removing youth from their homes and sending them to juvenile residential facilities for noncriminal infractions like probation violations, underage drinking or truancy . The tool allows users to sort data about youth confined for these infractions in each state by population percentage, number, and rate. This tool can be used by policy makers, advocates and officials to analyze and compare their populations with other states to inform decisions on responding to noncriminal infractions.
Nearly a quarter of youth held in residential facilities in the United States are confined for status offenses or technical violations of probation. Status offenses are acts that would not be crimes for an adult, such as truancy or running away from home, and technical violations are behaviors that do not comply with court-ordered conditions like missing curfew or skipping a meeting with a probation officer. Research shows that for many youth, out-of-home placements do not reduce recidivism, and in certain circumstances can be counterproductive.
West Virginia leads the nation in its rate of removing youth from their homes for status offenses, with Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania rounding out the top five. Alaska confines youth for technical violations at the highest rate, followed by Wyoming, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
Other states have adopted innovative policies to focus use of residential beds on youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety. For example:
• In 2013, Georgia’s House Bill 242 prohibited residential commitment for youth charged with status offenses and restricted confinement for those who committed misdemeanors.
• In 2016, Kansas’ Senate Bill 367 prohibited committing a youth on probation to state custody for technical violations, limited the cumulative number of days youth can be placed in local secure detention over the course of their cases, and required probation officers to respond to violations with a continuum of community-based graduated sanctions and incentives.
• More recently, Utah’s House Bill 239, passed in 2017, limited the use of secure confinement for youth facing probation violations and prohibited referrals to law enforcement or juvenile court for class C misdemeanors, status offenses and infractions commited on school grounds, which includes removing truancy from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.