The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is the only federal law that protects children and youth in the justice system and address prevention services for at-risk youth. JJDPA was passed in 1974 and most recently reauthorized in 2018. In 1980, Congress added the valid court order (VCO) exception to the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) core requirement.

The valid court order (VCO) exception exists in the JJDPA law when a youth has been detained for a status offense, whereas they have committed an offense that would not be criminal if committed by an adult, such as running away from home or skipping school. Judges have the discretion to issue an order with conditions attached to youth, and if the youth does not follow the order, they can be incarcerated. States must report to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) uses of VCO.

The juvenile justice advocacy community hopes that the VCO exception is phased out or eliminated entirely during the most recent reauthorization of JJDPA; however, Congress bipartisan agreement, H.R. 6469, included retaining the VCO exception with restrictions to limiting the use by a court. Youth held in a secure facility due to a status offense violation of a valid court order can only be detained for a seven-day limit and VCO must be written and cannot be renewed or extended unless there is a new violation.

According to FY 16 data, 32 states and territories reported zero uses of the VCO, ten states reported less than 20 uses of the VCO, six states reported less than 100, and 8 states reported more than 100 uses of the VCO. VCO should be used as an exception as opposed to a rule and the JJDPA reauthorization of 2018 mandates this provision. Washington, which reported the highest number of uses of the VCO in FY 2016, passed legislation that would phase out the state’s use of the VCO by July 1, 2021. OJJDP listed the state by state comparisons of the use of the valid court order and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) created a one-pager of the data that was released by OJJDP.