Whether they are jailed for a technical violation or status offense, these children end up confined in a legal system that experts say is rife with racial disparities and provides few if any educational or therapeutic services.
“[Detained] children are not free to leave, the doors are often locked, and the range of services that are available are from nothing to mediocre around the country,” said Tim Curry, special counsel with the National Juvenile Defender Center.
In addition to being incarcerated for alleged crimes like drug offenses or committing an assault, children in the United States can also be jailed for technical violations of their probation—nonviolent, noncriminal behavior that a judge finds objectionable—or for violating what are known as valid court orders. Grace was jailed in mid-May for a technical violation of her probation after she didn’t complete court-ordered homework in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other children are incarcerated on “status offenses”—typical adolescent behaviors such as refusing to obey their parents, skipping school, running away, or experimenting with alcohol. These “offenses” are criminalized by law solely because of the age of the people engaged in them.