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Running Away Or Skipping School Could Get A Kid Locked Up. Now That's Changing

Tuesday 6th of August 2019 | North America, United States
NPR
News

In Kentucky, running away from home or constantly skipping school could get a kid locked up in a juvenile hall for days. Those acts, called status offenses, aren't serious crimes, but for years Kentucky and other states treated them as though they were.

That first brush with the juvenile justice system can often lead to more trouble if authorities focus on punishment, not the underlying reasons for the bad behavior.

But there's growing evidence that the tough approach doesn't work. Kentucky has joined many other states that are trying something different.

"We've got a lot of training on this," says Lucinda Masterton, a Fayette County Family Court judge based in Lexington. "I don't know of any judges who believe that you should lock up kids to teach 'em a lesson — especially status kids that we're dealing with."

Nationally, the number of status offense complaints filed against juveniles reached their peak in the early 2000s. They've since been on the decline as research about status offenses and the factors surrounding them deepens.

The status offense that tops the list of juvenile misbehavior is truancy. Kellie Shouse, 22, says missing school was a habit for her starting in middle school.

Shouse was in eighth grade and ran with her older sister's crowd. She rarely attended school.

"I missed, I think it was like 98 days," she says.

Now Shouse lives at the Brighton Recovery Center for Women in Florence, Ky., not far from Cincinnati. She's working to break a heroin addiction after several stints in prison on a possession charge.

Her ready smile and deep dimples are a stark contrast to her description of a chaotic family life with parents, siblings and other relatives who, she says, were "out in the madness" of drug addiction. When Shouse went to high school, she missed even more days.

"You know they send your parents letters and stuff," Shouse says. "Your parents would usually get in trouble if they don't go to court, but I basically did not listen to my parents, what they say."

Her mother eventually signed off on Shouse dropping out of school, and a judge ordered her to complete community service instead of detaining her for not attending school as ordered. Shouse says she's thankful.

"I mean I've had friends, like when I was in school, that went to juvenile hall and they come back worse some of them."

Besides truancy, there are four other common status offenses: breaking curfew, underage drinking, being incorrigible or ungovernable, and running away.

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  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

    All rights reserved

  • Head Office: Rue Mercelis, nº 50. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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