ColorLines: STUDY: How 'Status Offenses' Push Students of Color, Queer Kids Into Criminal Justice System
“Kids who are already less privileged—in how they are perceived and in their access to services—are more likely to have their misbehavior criminalized.”
A new report from nonprofit advocacy group Vera Institute of Justice breaks down how many teenagers of color are shuttled into the criminal justice system. Penned by Mahsa Jafarian and Vidhya Ananthakrishnan, “Just Kids: When Misbehaving is a Crime” delves into the world of “status offenses”—behaviors like skipping school or running away that are deemed illegal only because of the age of the participant and that are overwhelming responsible for landing children of color in the justice system at disproportionate rates.
The authors highlight how actions that are typically understood to be normal adolescent behaviors are frequently interpreted as illegal for kids who are already on the margins of society, with authorities overlooking important underlying issues that could be addressed with interventions. From the report:
Such a punitive approach has detrimental consequences: it criminalizes kids for misbehaviors that pose little to no risk to public safety and may punish them for developmental changes and service needs that are beyond their control. It also disproportionately pushes kids into the system who are already underserved and more likely to be subject to biases and harsher discipline—specifically girls, kids from poor communities, kids of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming (LGBT/GNC) kids. The justice system is not designed to support kids as they grapple with developmental changes or to address the underlying issues that may be causing them to “act out.” Instead, court involvement—and the incarceration that may follow—increases kids’ risk of engaging in future delinquent (criminal) behaviors and moving deeper into the system.
The report, which was released Monday (August 7), goes on to explore how bias factors into how officials interact with misbehaving children and the ultimate punishment they dole out.