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Explain your views concerning the decriminalization of status offenses.

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berty63 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted October 4, 2013 at 2:28 PM via web

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Explain your views concerning the decriminalization of status offenses.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 4, 2013 at 2:54 PM (Answer #1)

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The issue of decriminalizing status offenses is a difficult one.  On the one hand, decriminalization seems to be fair and to make sense.  On the other hand, it can lead to unintended consequences. 

In order to understand this, let us first think about what status offenses are.  These are actions that are illegal if done by juveniles, but not if done by adults.  For example, running away from home is a status offense.  So is being a minor in possession of alcohol.

On the one hand, it seems eminently sensible to decriminalize these offenses.  There does not seem to be much sense in putting children in a juvenile facility for having alcohol illegally or for running away from home.  It seems like a bad thing to institutionalize them when doing so might be more likely to move them towards more serious crimes.  For these reasons, many people think it is a good idea to decriminalize these offenses.

The problem with this has to do with the impact of decriminalization on some juveniles.  This is particularly true for runaways.  If we decriminalize status offenses, we cannot arrest runaways and lock them up.  Instead, we have to let them stay on the streets.  While on the streets, they may well become victims of violent crime or end up as prostitutes because they are so vulnerable.  So, by decriminalizing status offenses, we put people like these in greater danger than they would encounter in a juvenile facility.

For these reasons, I am ambivalent about the idea of decriminalizing all status offenses.

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