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National Girls Initiative (NGI) Innovation Awards

Background

Girls and young women represent a growing share of juvenile arrests, court delinquency petitions, detentions, and post-adjudication placements since 1992, when the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) first instructed states to be "gender-specific" in their treatment and prevention services.i For instance, 20% of all juvenile arrests were for girls in 1992, compared with 29% in 2012.ii Similarly, 20% of the delinquency court caseload in 1992 involved girls, compared with 28% in 2011.iii In 1992, girls accounted for 15% of delinquency cases detained at some point between referral and disposition compared with 21% in 2011.iv Finally, girls accounted for 12% of all adjudicated delinquency cases that received a placement disposition in 1992, as compared with 17% by 2011.v

Among girls and young women of color, disparities exist throughout the juvenile justice process. In 2011, Black females were more than twice as likely as their White peers to be referred to juvenile court for a delinquency offense. Similarly, Black females were 20% more likely to be detained at some point between referral and disposition than were their White peers, and 20% more likely to be formally petitioned to court. Among adjudicated cases, Black females were more likely to receive a disposition of probation. Compared to their White peers, American Indian and Native Alaskan girls were 20% more likely to be referred to juvenile court for delinquency, 50% more likely to be detained, 20% more likely to be adjudicated and to receive a disposition of probation, and 50% more likely to be waived to adult court.vi

Although a critical purpose of the juvenile justice system is to ensure public safety, the vast majority of girls who come in contact with, and are confined within, the juvenile justice system poses no public safety threat. They are typically non-violent, low-risk offenders with significant, complex, and pressing needs. Their presence in the juvenile justice system is often due to criminalization of behaviors that are related to particular types of trauma and violence concentrated among girls and young women in our society. Detention data illustrate this point. In 2011, 35.8% percent of detained girls were detained for status offenses and technical violations of probation as compared to only 21.9% of boys. In addition, 21.6% of girls were detained for simple assault and public order offenses (excluding weapons) as compared with only 13.4% of boys.vii For these girls, the juvenile justice system is often a harmful intervention, re-traumatizing them and reducing their opportunities for positive development.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) envisions a nation where all of our children are healthy, educated, and free from violence. Reducing the number of girls in the juvenile justice system is a major priority for OJJDP. If they come into contact with the system, that contact should be rare, fair, and beneficial to them. Unfortunately, for many girls, experiences of violence, racism, poverty, and gender bias unfairly disadvantage them and lead to their involvement in the juvenile justice system. Once in the system, they are too often treated as offenders in need of punishment rather than girls and young women in need of support. Addressing the needs of girls in a developmentally-appropriate manner means recognizing girls’ and young women’s diverse pathways into and across systems, and limiting their juvenile justice system involvement so only those who pose a threat to public safety enter the juvenile justice system. Then, for these very few girls and young women, it means reducing reliance on secure treatment and increasing gender and culturally responsive, trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate approaches to create healthy environments across the full ecology of their lives.viii

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i Act of Nov. 4, 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-586, 106 Stat. 4982; Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act of 1974, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5601–5784 (2006); See also, Sherman, F. (2012). Justice for Girls: Are We Making Progress? U.C.L.A. Law Review, 59(6), 1584-1628.

ii Adapted from Snyder, H. N. & Mulako-Wangota, J. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Arrests of Juveniles for All Offenses. Generated using the Arrest Data Analysis Tool at www.bjs.gov. November 18, 2014.

iii Adapted from Sickmund, M., Sladky, A., & Kang, W. (2014). Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics: 1985-2011. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezajcs/. November 18, 2014.

iv Id. December 2, 2014.

v Id.

vi Puzzanchera, C. (2014). 2011 RRI Summary for Delinquency Offenses by Race and Gender. Special analysis of Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics [http:ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezajcs/]. National Center for Juvenile Justice. Pittsburgh, PA. Prepared December 1, 2014.

vii Adapted from Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzaanchera, C. (2013). Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/. December 1, 2014.

viii See, National Academy of Sciences, Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach; SAMSHA

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If you have questions or need additional information please email OJJDPNGI@air.org.