A fifteen-year-old boy has a habit of defying his parents and leaving home for days at a time. He is brought before the juvenile court and is found to be unruly. As part of its order, the court requires the boy to be placed under home arrest for several weeks. However, within a few days, the boy has run away from home again. A police officer locates the boy on Friday evening and immediately takes him into custody, but when he brings the boy to the juvenile detention facility, they refuse to accept him on a Friday evening. Why?
The Ohio legislature recently enacted House Bill 265 to bring Ohio into compliance with federal standards which discourage secure detention of unruly children. Effective March 3, 1997, this new law prohibits secure detention of an unruly child for more than twenty-four hours, unless the child is brought in on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday. Therefore, if the child is brought to a detention on Friday evening, and if he cannot be brought before the court within twenty-four hours, the detention facility cannot hold him for the full weekend!
Those experienced with juvenile court matters may ask: "But isn't he a delinquent child? After all, didn't he violate a lawful court order when he broke his home arrest?" Maybe so, but according to some interpretations of the new law, that would not make a difference. It seems that the twenty-four hour limitation on detention may apply to all children who have been adjudged unruly, regardless of whether the need to detain the child occurs before or after the court's disposition on the unruly charges. While this law will be subject to interpretation by the courts, it is possible that a child who has only been adjudged unruly, and who has committed no criminal offense, will never be subject to detention for more than twenty-four hours at a time.
Even if the boy in our example could be held for more than twenty-four hours on the grounds that he violated a court order, that does not solve the problem of the child who has not been adjudged unruly. A fourteen-year-old girl has left home on several occasions, not returning until the next day. Since she always returns, her parents have never brought her before the court. But this time, she storms out of the house, threatening to leave the state, and her parents are convinced that she is serious. She, too, is taken into custody on Friday evening. If she cannot be brought before the court within twenty-four hours, must she be released, knowing that she is likely to abscond from the state? It appears so.
Has the Ohio legislature gone mad? No. It appears that they are simply trying to comply with federal standards which do not favor secure detention of unruly children. However, this new law seems to ignore reality and common sense when it comes to matters involving unruly children, particularly those who frequently run away from home and other placements. We can only hope that the courts will exercise common sense in the interpretation of this law, and if that fails to work, we sincerely hope that the legislature will have better answer.