There are a number of different things that a youth can do to get themselves put in juvenile detention. Anything that we consider a crime for an adult is considered illegal for youth as well and can get them into one of these types of facilities. But there are a few things that are illegal for youth but are not for adults. One of those is truancy. Because it’s illegal for youth, they can be sent to juvenile detention for excessive truancy, but is that really the best place?
Why it Happens
Youth who commit any kind of offense are sent to juvenile detention unless they are given probation or tried as an adult. If they are tried as an adult they can be sent to a regular jail or prison. This means youth may commit offenses all the way up to assault and robbery even, and still be sent to a juvenile detention facility. Smaller offenses, like truancy, are also sent to that same facility, resulting in potentially dangerous youth being housed in the same area as those who are skipping school.
What it Means
While this may seem like an acceptable answer to helping youth change their ways, it can actually result in a lot of different problems. Think about the youth that are present in a juvenile detention facility and all of the things that they may have done to wind up there. Now think about the youth whose only offense is not going to school. These youth are going to be together, in one space, for an extended period of time with very little to occupy their time. The youth who has committed more serious offenses may very well be dangerous to the other youth in more ways than one.
Staff in a juvenile detention facility is tasked with protecting the youth from danger, which means they should always be able to stop a fight and keep other youth from being assaulted. But they may not always be able to stop youth from discussing their offenses. This can result in a misguided youth becoming a whole lot more aware of different types of offenses and possibly even leaving the facility to commit a more serious offense (or several of them) in the same way that many adult offenders leave jail or prison as a more accomplished criminal than they enter.
Youth who commit minor offenses, such as truancy, are not always engaged in other illegal activity. Leaving school may be the only thing they’ve ever done wrong. But throwing them into a group of youth who have committed more serious offenses can either terrify them entirely, or it can result in them deciding to do even worse the next time they’re out and able to do what they want to do. It can create a cycle for that youth where they become even more advanced in the activities they are pursuing.
At this point in time we don’t have a lot of choices in the way of ‘punishing’ a youth who skips school other than sending them to a juvenile facility. But juvenile facilities, unlike adult ones, do not come in security levels. That means a lot of intermingling between youth with offenses of various severity levels and it means potential problems. A separation of these youth may be the best thing for all involved, but it’s going to require a lot of changes to the legal system, and more specifically the juvenile legal system, in order to make that a reality. But it’s definitely something that these children need.