Why Is DSO Needed?
The deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO) provision of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, as amended, prohibits (with a few exceptions) the use of secure detention or confinement for status offenders and nonoffenders. The intent of the DSO requirement was for States to divert such youth away from the juvenile justice system, and place them in less restrictive programs that are service intensive and community based.
This emphasis on the use of community-based alternatives was a response to problems that surfaced as juvenile justice systems adopted the practice of placing in secure detention or confinement most juvenile offenders (Austin, Johnson, and Weitzer, 2005), regardless of the seriousness of the offense. The problems generally related to crowding in detention and confinement facilities, and to the drawbacks and unproven effectiveness of detention and confinement.
Detention facilities are designed to provide temporary supervision for youth who are at high risk of serious reoffending before their court hearings, or of not appearing for their court hearings. A significant body of research indicates that detention
For nonviolent, low-level juvenile offenders, detention is associated with the risk of physical and psychological injury, as many detention facilities are understaffed (Holman and Ziedenberg, 2007) and "crowded and unsafe" (National Juvenile Defender Center, 2006:4). Status offenders also are at risk of being housed with seriously delinquent youth (National Juvenile Defender Center, 2004) and of developing more deviant attitudes and behaviors through exposure to other status offenders and to delinquent youth (Holman and Ziedenberg, 2007). In addition, detained youth "are more likely to have difficulty transitioning back into community, home, and school settings, and are more likely to be arrested again…[and] to be formally charged, adjudicated, and committed to a juvenile corrections institution" (Munson, et al., 2008:5).
Detention also violates the needs of status offenders. According to Kendall (2007:9), "[y]outh who enter juvenile status offense systems are often in extreme conflict with their parents that cannot be resolved privately without some intervention. These are youth who often fall between the ‘cracks’ of two bureaucratic legal systems—one designed to respond to maltreatment of young children and the other focused on youthful offenders who present a risk to society. They need protective interventions, and their families require noncoercive, family-focused approaches that may help deter future delinquency. Many have been abused or neglected; are dealing with domestic violence within their families; come from poor and violent neighborhoods; suffer from serious unmet mental health needs, learning disabilities, and emotional or behavioral problems; and lack adequate educational and career opportunities. These are teens and families at risk and in great need of assistance."
In summary, the majority of the evidence indicates that the needs of status offenders are best addressed through the use of appropriate, community-based alternative programs. Therefore, the rationale for the DSO provision consists of three main components:
1. When handled as delinquents, status offenders have been placed in secure environments (i.e., detention or incarceration) that can lead to physical and psychological harm.
2. Holding status offenders and nonoffenders in secure detention or confinement, although expedient, is an inappropriate strategy for handling juveniles who have not engaged in any criminal behavior.
3. Status offenders are often victims of abuse and neglect. Punishing these children results in continuation of the cycle of mistreatment. Instead, they should be assessed and receive appropriate services.
Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 1974 and reauthorized most of its provisions in 2002. This law has had a “profound effect on the laws, policies and practices that provide the framework for the operations of States’ juvenile justice systems” (National Criminal Justice Association, 1995). The JJDPA established a Formula Grants program “to support State and local delinquency prevention and intervention efforts and juvenile justice system improvements” (Hsia, 2004). States participating in the Formula Grants program must comply with four Core Requirements. The first requirement is the deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO):
Definitions According to the Code of Federal Regulations, a status offender is "a juvenile offender who has been charged with or adjudicated for conduct that would not, under the law of the jurisdiction in which the offense was committed, be a crime if committed by an adult" (28 C.F.R. 31.304[h]). Status offenses include truancy, curfew violations, incorrigibility, running away, and underage possession and/or consumption of alcohol or tobacco.
A nonoffender is "a juvenile who is subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for reasons other than criminal behavior, usually under abuse, dependency, or neglect statutes for reasons other than legally prohibited conduct of the juvenile" (28 C.F.R. 31.304[i]). Nonoffenders are referred to by a variety of terms, including children in need of services (CHINS), children in protective services (CHIPS), and families in need of services (FINS).
Original DSO ProvisionThe DSO provision was included in the original JJDPA “ to provide within 2 years… that juveniles who are charged with or who have committed offenses that would not be criminal if committed by an adult (i.e., status offenders), shall not be placed in juvenile detention or correctional facilities, but must be placed in shelter facilities.”
DSO AmendmentsAmendments enacted in 1977 extended the DSO provision to nonoffenders (such as dependent and neglected youth) and removed the requirement that status offenders be placed in shelter care (which allowed State and local governments more flexibility in finding appropriate placements for these juveniles). Further amendments in 1980 mandated that status offenders and nonoffenders be removed from secure juvenile detention and correctional facilities.
Also in 1980, Congress approved an exception to the DSO requirement for status offenders and nonoffenders who are found to have violated a valid court order (VCO). Under the exception, status offenders can be held in secure facilities if they violate a VCO, but only when State law or judicial policy allows it and only when significant preliminary services have been initiated—a substantial change to the DSO requirement. The VCO exception has caused thousands of chronic status offenders to be locked up for lengthy periods and is a major departure from the original intent of the DSO Core Requirement.
OJJDP RegulationsOJJDP regulations permit accused (nonadjudicated) status offenders to be held in secure juvenile facilities for up to 24 hours before an initial court appearance (excluding weekends and holidays) and for an additional 24 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) immediately following an initial court appearance. Once adjudicated, a status offender cannot be held in a juvenile detention facility.
Consequences of NoncomplianceThe 2002 JJDPA reduces a noncompliant State’s Formula Grant allocation by not less than 20 percent for the subsequent fiscal year for each Core Requirement with which the State fails to comply, and the State must agree to spend 50 percent of its allocation for that subsequent year to achieve compliance.
Diverse Compliance StrategiesStates and Territories have implemented a variety of strategies—legislative, administrative, and programmatic—to achieve compliance. They have passed laws, changed policies and practices regarding the handling of status offenders and nonoffenders, developed programs geared to specific classes of status offenders (such as runaways or truants), and combined strategies to bring about needed change. In many States, the DSO Core Requirement has helped advance juvenile justice reform efforts that were already under way.
Current StatusThe original Federal DSO provision has been judged to be a tremendous success (Snyder and Sickmund, 1999). OJJDP’s 2008 Annual Report shows that all but three States were in compliance with de minimis exceptions or in full compliance with the DSO Core Requirement.
OJJDP Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders
Best Practices Database
The OJJDP Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders Best Practices Database was created and developed by
Development Services Group
under Cooperative Agreement #2008-JF-FX-0072.