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Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders

­­­­ The juvenile delinquency justice system in the United States is regulated by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. It is this Act that defines that “children should not have contact with adults in jails and other institutional settings and that ‘status offenders’ should not be placed in secure detention” (“Fact Sheet”, 1). Three are the major forms used to fulfill this law, incarceration, diverting dependent, and divestiture of jurisdiction.

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Decarceration in our case means the movement of juveniles from institutions such as prisons or mental hospitals (“Decarceration”, 1). Thus the juveniles classified as status offenders will not be punished by confinement to any secure institution like adults but will be treated by incarceration. To these children is offered a psychological counseling service, education, and preparation for the job market. The pros of this method underline these factors by arguing that they will help in reinforcing positive community values to the children and thus move him/her away from the world of delinquency in the future. The cons argue that practically this methodology has been useless because most of the children are re-integrated into the same communities they were practicing delinquency. The fact is that these communities have a very hard environment for these children and offer not many possibilities for the future. Thus they will not be able to find any job or see any positive example because in most of these communities they see a harsh environment, poverty, and not the rule of law, but the law of the jungle, dominating.

The second method is diverted dependent. It is much similar to the previous one. Many youths who have not committed criminal acts but are charged with “small offenses” are re-directed, diverted from the juvenile justice court to a kind of community-related or family therapy. The pros of this method claim that this way the child will be spared the psychological effects of the impact with the court and incarceration. The treatment through community-based work and the assignment to a family for surveillance will enhance the positive values of society to the child. But the cons again seem skeptical about this solution because it is the practical functioning that is lacking. As facts have shown in many cases children have been brought before the court and have passed time in prison. Furthermore, if this family-based therapy is conducted within the same environment that led the child to delinquency in the first place, it will not have the desired effects.

The third method is that of child neglect to social services. This case is when a family, or a parent, is unable to raise properly his/her child. Child neglecting is considered to be “the persistent lack of appropriate care of children, including love, stimulation, safety, nourishment, warmth, education, and medical attention. It can have a serious effect on a child’s physical, mental and emotional development” (“Child Neglect”, 1). So the child is taken into the custody of social services where he/she is offered all the values that the family neglected him/her. The pros again emphasize the factor of transmitting positive values to the child. By being in touch with the community and with social services the child will be more attracted to positive community values. The cons, on the other hand, state that social services and social care cannot substitute the love and care of a family. Furthermore, again there stays the problem of the communitarian environment as a whole.

In my opinion, the problem of the communitarian environment is the key to success for deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders. If the environment is harsh if it promotes poverty and lack of opportunities then the child will be more attracted to delinquency.


“Fact Sheet”. Building Blocks for Youth Website. 2008. Web.

“Decarceration”. The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. 2009. Web.

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“Child Neglect”. NSPCC Website, 2009. Web.

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