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Girls and the Juvenile Justice System

5/16/2001:   For the first time, an important new report released by two national organizations of legal professionals focuses on what can be done to address the numbers of adolescent girls in the juvenile justice system. The report is timely because girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population despite the overall drop in juvenile crime. Justice by Gender: The Lack of Appropriate Prevention, Diversion, and Treatment Alternatives of Girls in Justice System, was jointly released by the American Bar Association and the National Bar Association. The 56-page report, along with additional resources on related topics, is available at http://www.abanet.org/crimjust/juvjus/girls.html

One statistic contained in the report says that between 40% and 73% of the girls in the juvenile justice system are estimated to have experienced sexual and physical abuse compared with 23% to 34% of girls in the general population. Few appropriate placement options exist that provide sexual abuse treatment, support for pregnant or parenting girls, or vocational training. About 37% of girls who come into contact with the juvenile justice system enter for "status offenses" which are not crimes for adults (e.g., truancy, running away, breaking a curfew).

Although juvenile crime has dropped overall, arrests, detentions, and justice system custody data for girls have increased. In 1999, law enforcement agencies reported 670,800 arrests of girls, accounting for 27% of total juvenile arrests. In 1998, 450,000 girls were arrested which again was 27% of all youth arrested. Delinquency cases involving girls jumped 83% between 1988 and 1997. Between 1990 and 1999, arrests of girls increased more than arrests of boys for curfew violations, loitering, drug abuse, and assault.

Other topics in the report include discussion of the popular misconception that girls are becoming more violent (perhaps the perception of behavior has changed), the reasons why girls typically come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and the need for gender-specific, developmentally sound and culturally sensitive practices with girls. Suggestions also are provided for alternative disposition of cases and for improved approaches to juvenile detention of girls.

Content contributed by Heather Banks, Editor

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