Focus on Ethics Video: The Status of Status Offenses

Status offenses include behaviors such as running away, drinking underage, being incorrigible, and truancy. These are all behaviors which are illegal for juveniles but legal for adults. The theory behind applying these sanctions to juveniles is that early intervention may prevent more serious delinquency later. Critics of status offenses contend that by intervening in the lives of young people too early the juvenile justice system may actually cause juveniles to identify themselves as deviant individuals and act out. Additionally, by placing a negative label on juveniles the state may treat their unlawful behavior with more severe sanctions than necessary.

Video source: RosaryFilms on YouTube

1. What behaviors are illegal for juveniles that are legal for adults? Are there other behaviors that you believe should be added to this list?

2. What types of programs would be beneficial to those charged with status offenses? Can crime be prevented if children’s deviance is addressed early?

3. Are girls more at risk of harm if they commit status offenses than are boys? Do you believe girls should be treated differently by the juvenile justice system?

4. At what point in their deviancy should juveniles be inserted into the juvenile justice system? Will juveniles outgrow their minor behavioral problems if left alone?