Juvenile Justice System

Runaway and Homeless Youth

Runaway and homeless youth have higher rates of involvement with the juvenile justice system1 including higher rates of misdemeanor charges and gang affiliation.2 According to a study of runaway and homeless youth in the Midwest, over half had been arrested at least one time since they first ran away, with many arrested multiple times.3 They may engage in delinquent acts such as stealing, selling drugs, and prostitution as strategies for survival.4 Youth who have run away multiple times, who ran away at an early age, and who have experienced externalizing behavioral disorders (e.g., drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and conduct disorders) have been found to be more likely to be involved in these delinquent behaviors and subsequent arrest(s).5 In addition, many homeless youth have been involved in the juvenile justice system.6

When young people leave residential juvenile justice placements, they face many challenges as they reenter the community, home, and school/work force. Youth may return to unstable home settings, face a lack of family support, struggle to remain in school, lack the skills needed for employment, and experience a gap in behavioral health services. Further, they can face policies that may prohibit convicted offenders from living in Section 8 housing.7 These barriers may create situations where youth return to the street at release. In these cases, there is a strong chance they will become involved in the same behaviors that initially led to arrest.8 Learn more about how planning for reentry when a youth enters the juvenile justice system can increase success, and about the federal programs that support homeless and runaway youth to keep them from returning to the streets and continuing the cycle of homelessness and delinquency.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008; Kaufman & Windom, 1999
2 Thompson & Pollio, 2006
3 Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006
4 Whitbeck & Simmons, 1993
5 Whitbeck & Simmons, 1993; Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006
6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008
7 Altschuler & Brash, 2004; HUD, 2012
8 Toro, Dworsky, & Fowler, 2007

 

Updated: Friday, August 31, 2012

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