Secure Detention Defined

Last week, JJ Today looked at data about status offenders sent to residential facilities by judges. We discovered that securely detaining a youth means different things to different people.

In a report she prepared at the National Center for Youth Law, Senior Attorney Pat Arthur counted all residential placements – locked or unlocked – as secure detention. Her logic: if a judge puts a youth someplace, and leaving that place is tantamount to committing another status offense, then you are being securely detained.

Some disagreed with Arthur, others concurred. The debate will matter if a phase-out of the valid court order exception is included in whatever JJDPA reauthorization bill finally gets signed by a president, because judges will have to limit their options with status offenders to actions that do not constitute “secure detention.”

Is there an official definition of what secure detention means?

“There has to be,” Center for Children’s Law and Policy Executive Director Mark Soler told JJ Today when we asked him about an official definition.

He’s right. That definition, taken from federal regulations, was mentioned in a February memo from OJJDP director J. Robert Flores to state juvenile justice directors and advisory group members. “Secure detention facility” means any public or private residential facility that:

A) includes construction fixtures designed to restrict the physical movements and activities of juvenile or other individuals in lawful custody in such facility

And

B) is used for the temporary placement of any juvenile who is accused of having committed an offense or of any other individual accused of having committed a criminal offense.

(“Secure commitment facility” carries the same definition, with the caveat that wards have been convicted.)

Even that official definition is a bit vague. Is a basic lock on the door a construction fixture? If so, Arthur could argue that a locked shelter or group home counts.

But in his memo, Flores is specific as to OJJDP’s interpretation: “juvenile correctional and detention facilities, adult jails, lockups and prisons.”

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