For juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to detention centers, finding a way to regain some sense of freedom is often a priority. However, probation usually comes with strict terms, any violation of which may send a minor back into detention. According to experts, Washington authorities often take youth back into custody for status offenses or technical violations, not for violent or serious crimes.
In May 2020, a 15-year-old girl was incarcerated for violating her probation. Her offense? Not completing her homework. While her probation included court-ordered homework, it came during a period in which many students were struggling with a switch from physical to online school. According to juvenile justice advocates, this kind of process is extremely traumatic to children.
A status offense is different from a technical violation, as it refers to something that is illegal only because of a person’s age. Experimenting with alcohol, skipping school and running away can all be categorized as criminal offenses for minors. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, most status offenses can be chalked up to a simple symptom of adolescence — rule breaking. Despite this, minors can be jailed, released on probation and then taken back into custody for status offenses without ever committing a serious crime.
Out of all 50 states, Washington incarcerates the highest number of children for status offenses. Even as advocates have pushed for reform, they have faced serious opposition from judges who are unhappy with the changes. This makes advocating for one’s child all the more important, especially if he or she faces the possibility of being detained for violating probation.