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In 2021, a six-year-old boy was arrested for picking a flower at his bus stop. His feet didn’t reach the ground when seated at a courtroom table to face the judge. Though his case was ultimately dismissed, he still had to endure the trauma of arrest and a court proceeding.

A 15-year-old girl was incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic after a judge ruled that her failure to complete her homework was a violation of probation. She was released after she spent months in detention and other facilities.

A fourth-grader with autism was taken into police custody after a teacher intervened in a school fight and stated the child hit her. Though the child’s parents said it was an accident, the student was charged with “battery and criminal mischief” and held for 20 minutes before being released.

Youth are increasingly grappling with mental health, education, and community violence challenges.

States are struggling with how to address these concerns, including determining whether juvenile justice or other system responses are the most effective way to improve outcomes for youth while protecting public safety.

We examined how states currently treat two categories of young people: youth who commit status offenses—behaviors that are not even crimes—and young children who don’t have the developmental capacity to fully understand the crimes they are committing. We share takeaways from a 50-state scan about these two populations and propose a call to action.

Explore States’ Responses