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Juvenile Crime - Status Offense Cases

percent runaway law ungovernability

Status offenses are law violations for which an adult cannot be prosecuted (runaway, truancy, alcohol possession, ungovernability cases, etc.). From 1990 to 1999, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention publication Juvenile Court Statistics 1999 (2003), liquor law violations accounted for 42 percent of status offense cases for 17−year-olds, followed by runaway cases at 10 percent, and ungovernability (also known as incorrigibility) cases at 9 percent.

In many communities, social service agencies rather than juvenile courts have responsibility for accused status offenders. National estimates of informally handled status offense cases are not calculated because of differences in screening procedures. The statistics, therefore, focus on formally handled (petitioned) status offense cases.

Age, Sex, and Race

Children over 16 accounted for three-fourths of all liquor law violations from 1990 to 1999. Persons under the FIGURE 5.20
Estimated delinquency cases, 1960–2000
FIGURE 5.22
Cases per 1,000 juveniles by offense category and age group, 2000
age of 15 made up two-thirds of all the runaway cases during the same period. Truancy was most common among 15-year-olds (30 percent of the cases), as were runaway cases (28 percent), and ungovernability cases (25 percent).

Between 1990 and 1999 females accounted for a larger proportion of petitioned status offense cases than in delinquency cases. The offense profiles of male and female status offense cases reflect the relatively high male involvement in liquor law violations (70 percent) and the higher female involvement in runaway cases (61 percent). Males accounted for 55 percent of all ungovernability cases and 54 percent of all truancy cases.

FIGURE 5.21
Percentage of delinquency cases referred by law enforcement, 2000

Between 1990 and 1999 white youths were held in 74 percent of runaway, 71 percent of truancy, and 72 percent of ungovernability cases, and in 90 percent of all status liquor law violation cases. Compared with their representation in the general population, white youths were overrepresented in liquor law violation cases and under-represented in the other three categories. Blacks accounted for 22 percent of runaway, 25 percent of truancy, and 26 percent of ungovernability cases. (Nearly all youth of Hispanic ethnicity are included in the white racial category.)

Detention and Case Processing

The handling of status crimes has changed considerably since the mid-1980s. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (PL 93−415) offered substantial federal funds to states that tried to reduce the detention of status offenders. The primary responsibility for status offenders was often transferred from the juvenile courts to child welfare agencies. As a result, the character of the juvenile courts' activities changed.

Prior to this change many juvenile detention centers contained a substantial number of young people whose only "crime" was that their parents could no longer control them. By not routinely institutionalizing these adolescents, the courts demonstrated that the youths were seen as deserving the same rights as adults. A logical extension of this has been that children accused of violent crimes are also now being treated legally as if they were adults.

Those involved in petitioned status offense cases are rarely held in detention. From 1990 to 1999 only 12 percent of runaway cases were detained, 2 percent of truancy cases, and 7 percent of ungovernability and liquor law cases, respectively. Males were more often detained than were

TABLE 5.5
Juvenile court processing of a typical 1,000 delinquency cases, 2000

Total delinquency
1,633,300 estimated cases
Intake decision Intake disposition Judicial decision Judicial disposition
1,000 cases Petitioned 576 Waived 3
Adjudicated 382 Placed 91
Probation 241
Other sanction 40
Released 10
Nonadjudicated 190 Placed 3
Probation 23
Other sanction 36
Dismissed 128
Nonpetitioned 424 Placed 2
Probation 139
Other sanction 113
Dismissed 170
Detail may not add to total because of rounding.
SOURCE: "Juvenile Court Processing for a Typical 1,000 Delinquency Cases, 2000," in Statistical Briefing Book, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, DC, 2003 [Online] http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/court/JCSCF_Display.asp [accessed April 10, 2004]

females. Males composed 60 percent of runaway, 54 percent of truancy, 55 percent of ungovernability, and 57 percent of liquor law cases held for detention. Whites made up 65 percent of all runaway cases held for detention, 71 percent of truancy cases, 72 percent of ungovernability cases, and 69 percent of liquor law cases held for detention.

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, over half of the petitioned status offense cases from 1990 to 1999 resulted in adjudication (ruling in a court). For whites 47 percent of runaway, 60 percent of truancy, 62 percent of ungovernability, and 58 percent of liquor law cases were adjudicated. For blacks the numbers were similar: 44 percent of runaway, 63 percent of truancy, 60 percent of ungovernability, and 50 percent of liquor law cases resulted in adjudication. Males were more likely to receive adjudication in liquor law cases (60 percent) than were females (55 percent). For all groups runaway cases were least likely to result in adjudication. Of the cases adjudicated, 57 percent of runaway cases received probation, 78 percent of truancy cases, 65 percent of ungovernability cases, and 58 percent of liquor law cases. Other dispositions include placement outside of their homes, such as in a detention home or boot camp, and other sanctions, such as restitution or community service.

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