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New Report Describes the Unique Needs of Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

Posted on November 4, 2012

Photo by Publik16, used under Creative Commons license.

A report released last month by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy documents the unique histories and needs of girls in the juvenile justice system and makes policy recommendations for the creation of gender-responsive approaches within the juvenile justice system.

The report explains that girls and young women often enter the system as high need, low risk offenders, the majority of whom are incarcerated for non-serious status offenses or court violations, and pose a very low risk to the surrounding community. They are also disproportionally likely to report a history of sexual and physical abuse, exposure to violence, death of a family member, or parental incarceration. These traumas can contribute to mental and emotional disorders, as well as poor educational outcomes and increased likelihood of teen pregnancy. States continue to neglect gender-responsive programming in juvenile detention centers, despite a more dramatic increase in the detention of girls over boys between 1993 and 2001 (88% versus 23%, respectively).

The 1992 reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act recommends all-female, minimally restrictive detention centers that are close to girls’ homes, consistent with their developmental needs, and accommodating of pregnant and parenting teens. However, budget cuts often decrease female-focused programs because girls are frequently deemed “lower risk” than boys. Still, some areas have maintained focus on gender-sensitive programming and report encouraging results including lower recidivism, less ongoing traumatization, and increases in resiliency, as well as more cost-effective programs as a result of these positive outcomes.

The report recommends action on the local, state and national levels to encourage gender-responsive justice procedures. Suggested interventions include increasing advocacy and legislation, growing awareness of major stakeholders, training detention personnel, promoting funding for diversion programs and developing early intervention strategies for at-risk youth.

Schubert Center Child Policy Director Gabriella Celeste, JD, along with Marcia Egbert of the George Gund Foundation and Faculty Associate Patrick Kanary discussed the role research played in creating evidence-based policy reforms to Ohio’s juvenile justice system. Click here learn more about this talk. Additionally, in 2010 the Schubert Center hosted a talk by Marty Beyer, PhD, a national child welfare and juvenile justice consultant, titled “Girls in Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Framework” as part of the Schubert Center Girlhood Series. Download the accompanying issue brief.

Page last modified: February 8, 2017