A New Year’s Resolution – Take Truancy out of the Top Five

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let’s take truancy out of the top five reasons that girls in Washington state are locked up each year. According to the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee’s 2009 Annual Report, truancy was among the leading reasons for detention of girls. Statistics are not posted yet for 2010. There appears to be some good news in the same chart: in 2006, 2007 and 2008, more than 700 girls were locked up each year for truancy; in 2009, the chart shows “only273 were locked up for truancy.

 The bad news is that 273 were locked up in 2009 for truancy. And Washington law still allows incarceration as a consequence for kids who miss school without excuse in violation of a court’s order telling them that, as the law says, they have to go to school. Others are locked up if they miss a court hearing in a truancy case.

I have never understood the logic behind locking kids up in order to get them back in school. And it turns out that most of the kids who are sent to court for truancy (80% of them in a recent study) do not graduate on time. See WSIPP’s study Washington’s Truancy Laws: Does the Petition Process Influence School and Crime Outcomes? (“of all students in Washington during the 2002–03 school year, only 20 percent of students with [truancy] petitions graduated from high school by 2008, compared with 77 percent of their non-petitioned peers.”).

Back to some good news: Study after study shows that there are effective ways of responding to truant behavior without locking kids up. (For a host of studies and other resources on the issue, check out the Center for Children and Youth Justice website resource page on school engagement and dropout prevention.

Most New Year’s resolutions are more about good intentions than real commitments. But this is a resolution that can be met. Because the other good news is that smart, passionate, and committed individuals working in juvenile courts, in schools, in the legislature, and in youth advocacy organizations are talking about how to reduce – to zero – the number of kids locked up for missing school and to increase the numbers of kids who get back to school.

So let’s resolve to all the girls (and boys) in Washington state: We will take truancy out of the top 5 list of reasons why you or your peers are locked up in 2011.