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About the SOS Project
Since 1974, the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement of federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has prohibited the incarceration of status offenders and non-delinquent youth involved with the courts. This includes young people alleged to be dependent, neglected, or abused. Embracing this requirement, by 1988 states participating in the JJDPA had reduced status detentions by 95%, nationwide. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in detentions among this population, signaling a shift away from deinstitutionalization and toward incarceration to address non-criminal youth behaviors, many of which are tied to troubled home environments and unmet mental health, learning, or other needs.
In 2009, with the support of the Public Welfare Foundation, CJJ completed a national survey of the states and issued a first-of-its-kind report that assessed states’ compliance with the JJDPA. Above most other concerns, states cited challenges to DSO compliance, including judges’ overuse and misuse of the valid court order (VCO) exception to the DSO core requirement. Since 1984, the VCO exception to the DSO core requirement has allowed detention of adjudicated status offenders if they violate a VCO or direct order from the court. Use of the VCO is also exacerbated by a real or perceived lack of effective and readily accessible court and detention alternatives for families and the courts.
These findings affirmed a position ratified by the CJJ Council of SAGs in 2008 that calls for:
1. A phasing out of the VCO exception;
2. Increased federal resources;
3. Supports to help states expand family-connected and community-based
alternatives to detention; and
4. Formal juvenile court processes designed to meet the unique needs of status
offenders and non-delinquent youth.
The CJJ SOS Project is an extension of these efforts, and will help CJJ members, allies, and the states achieve better outcomes for this youth population, their families, and their communities nationwide.
- Identify and educate key stakeholders about policies and practices that divert status offenders and other non-delinquent youth from formal juvenile court involvement;
- Identify and educate key stakeholders about policies and practices that eliminate the use of locked detention for status offenders and other non-delinquent youth; and
- Inform and advocate for local, state, and federal policies and practices to support effective family-connected and community-based continuums of service for status offenders and other non-delinquent youth.