JUVENILES - DELINQUENCY;
January 31, 2003
BACKGROUND ON STATUS OFFENDERS
By: Lawrence K. Furbish, Director
You asked for background information on “status offenders” including (1) the definition of the term, (2) if they can be incarcerated, the process of finding them guilty, and (3) any laws or regulations concerning their confinement.
A status offender is someone charged with an offense that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. Common examples are running away from home, being truant from school, and being beyond parental control.
Status offenders are virtually never incarcerated for their first offense. But if they later violate a court order governing their behavior, they can be found delinquent, and if the court also finds that no less restrictive alternative is available, it can place them in a juvenile facility. This could be the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown, but this is rare.
If confined, they must be in a juvenile facility, and they are not kept with adults except in special and rare circumstances. There are statutorily established rights for children in the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and pursuant to statute DCF has promulgated regulations governing several aspects of their confinement. In addition, by law DCF must follow national standards governing juvenile training schools.
In Connecticut, children or youth who commit status offenses are defined as Family With Service Needs (FWSN) or Youth in Crisis (YIC). A FWSN is one that includes a child (someone under age 16) who, within the last two years (1) has run away from home or other lawful place of abode without just cause; (2) is beyond the control of parents or guardian; (3) has engaged in indecent or immoral conduct; (4) is a truant, habitually truant, or continuously and overtly defiant of school rules; or (5) is 13 or older and has had sex with a person 13 or older, but not more than two years older than the child (CGS § 46b-120(8)). A YIC is a youth (16- or 17- year old) who (1) has run away from home or other lawful place of abode, (2) is beyond the control of parents or guardian, or (3) has four unexcused school absences in any month or 10 in any school year (CGS § 46b-120(3)).
The FWSN law dates back to 1979 when Connecticut, responding to a federal mandate, decriminalized behaviors such as running away from home, truancy, and being beyond the control of one’s parents. These were termed “status offenses” because they were criminal acts only because of the age of the actors. Before 1979, status offenders were treated as delinquents and could be placed in detention.
When the FWSN law was enacted the cut off age was set at age 16, primarily due to issues of cost. But this left 16- and 17- year olds in what was frequently termed a “gray area; ” these youth were not yet adults but at the same time there was no way for the police or the courts to help parents exert control. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s proposals were introduced in the General Assembly to expand FWSN to cover 16- and 17-year olds, but they foundered over the issue of cost. Finally, in 2000 the legislature passed PA 00-177, which created the YIC program to deal with 16- and 17- year old status offenders.
JUDICIAL PROCESS AND INCARCERATION
Any number of people can initiate a FWSN or YIC proceeding in juvenile court, including the child’s parents, police, school superintendents, DCF officials, child caring agencies, youth service bureaus, and the child or his attorney (CGS § 46b-149). A written complaint is filed in Juvenile Court, and a juvenile probation office first investigates to see if it is valid. If it is, the matter can be referred, with the child and his parents’ consent, to a community-based service provider or a petition can be filed to bring the case to court. If this happens, a confidential proceeding is held with the child, his parents, and other appropriate parties. The court must do some things at this stage depending on the nature of the case. For example, if it involves truancy, the court must order an educational evaluation of the child. If the court believes there is a strong probability the child will injure himself or run away, it can order the child to be held in juvenile detention, which is operated by the Judicial Department, or placed with some suitable person or agency.
If the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the child belongs to a FWSN, it has an array of possible remedies. These include referring the child to DCF for voluntary services, ordering the child to remain at home, committing the child to DCF care and custody, or ordering community service or some other type of program participation. In some cases a FWSN child who has been committed to DCF can be placed in a residential treatment facility. DCF does not consider this to be incarceration.
If the court imposes an order on the child directing him to do something or restrain from doing something and the child subsequently violates that order, he can be charged with delinquency (CGS § 46b-148). (Delinquency is defined as violating a federal or state law or municipal ordinance (CGS § 46b-120(6)). Delinquent children are also processed in Juvenile Court, but if a child is “convicted as delinquent” the court has a more severe range of alternatives available to it. In this situation, a child could be committed to DCF custody and end up at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) in Middletown. According to Debra Korta, legislative liaison for DCF and Deborah Fuller, legislative liaison for the Judicial Department, it is rare for children convicted as delinquent for violating FWSN orders to be sent to CJTS. A YIC who violates an order is not considered delinquent and cannot be confined (CGS § 46b-150f).
RULES GOVERNING CUSTODY
Children committed to DCF can be placed in CJTS (a facility for boys), Long Lane School (used now for girls but being phased out), or other privately operated juvenile facility. The statutes authorize the commissioner of DCF to petition the court to transfer a juvenile who is 14 or older, dangerous to himself or others, and who cannot be safely held at CJTS or any other facility available to DCF to a facility operated by the Department of Correction (CGS § 17a-12a). If such a child were
male, he would go to the John R. Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, if female, to the Connecticut Correction Institution in Niantic. This is rare and would most likely be a child committed for a violent juvenile act, not a status offense.
The statutes lay out a list of rights for children placed in any facility or treated by DCF (CGS § 17a-16). These include such things as the right to dignified and humane treatment; the ability to communicate with others; writing materials and postage; the ability to make and receive phone calls; the right to receive visitors, including clergy and an attorney; and the right to visits from physicians and mental health professionals. Pursuant to a requirement in this statute, DCF has promulgated regulations governing the rights of children under DCF supervision (Regs. Of CT State Agencies § 17a-16-1-18). These include such things as: access to the telephone, use and receipt of mail, when and how restraints may be placed on a child, use of seclusion and force, and policies on hearings for out-of-state transfers. A copy of these regulations is attached.
In 1999, when the General Assembly enacted legislation creating the new CJTS, which replaced Long Lane School, it included a provision requiring DCF to use the Manual of Standards for Juvenile Training Schools published by the American Correctional Association. This book-length manual has standards for building and safety codes, housing, programs and services, security, rules and discipline, training and staff development, health care, food services, safety and emergency procedures, and fiscal management. According to Korta, DCF follows the standards in this manual and is in the process of revising its policy manuals to reflect them. She says that the department is pursuing accreditation for the school, using these standards.