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CA Justice System Ill-Equipped For Girls

BERKELEY, CA - The number of girl offenders in California's juvenile justice system is rising faster than the number of boys, yet a new report finds that the state lacks effective programs to service their unique needs.

The report, Gender Responsiveness and Equity in California’s Juvenile Justice System, was released today by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (BCCJ), a research and policy institute at UC Berkeley School of Law. The report addresses the needs of girl offenders and suggests ways policymakers and practitioners can improve their juvenile justice programs and services.

In the decade between 1995 and 2005, the number of girls in detention nationwide increased by 49 percent compared to 7 percent for boys. Research shows that girls enter the system for distinctly different types of delinquent behavior than boys. However, juvenile justice services have historically been developed for male populations and have failed to effectively serve young women.

Barry Krisberg, senior fellow at Berkeley Law’s Center for Criminal Justice and former head of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, says the juvenile justice system needs to be better equipped to respond to female offenders.

“Young women need different specialized care and support than young men. Many young women have suffered from high levels of sexual and physical abuse and often need different medical care than boys. Some of these young women have children themselves and need to be in contact with them. Every level of staff in the juvenile justice system needs to be sensitized to these differences.”

The Gender Responsiveness report summarizes data from national studies on girl offenders and their treatment in juvenile justice systems. Highlights include:

• How girls enter the system: Research shows that far more girls (70%) than boys (47%) are referred to courts on prostitution charges. Studies have also shown that the nature of girls’ violence is more often relational and that girls are more likely to fight with a family member than boys.

• The unique needs of girls: Studies have found that girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced higher rates of physical neglect and higher rates of sexual and emotional abuse than boys. Additionally, delinquent girls suffer from mental health problems and experience traumatic life events at higher rates than boys.

• Limited programs and services for girls: A survey of California’s Chief Probation officers found that gender-specific programs for girls were one of the least available program types. In a juvenile court study, prosecutors and defense attorneys specifically noted a lack of residential placement facilities and local camps or ranches for females.

Although few gender-responsive programs are available and none have been deemed “model programs,” certain characteristics are considered integral to their success. Effective girl programs are typically relationship-based, responsive to a history of trauma, and provide a safe treatment space removed from males.

Such gender-specific programs would help the state care for girls in its custody and improve their outcomes, according to the report. Some of its policy recommendations include:

• Train juvenile justice staff in gender-responsiveness;
• Use assessment tools designed for females; 
• Develop gender-responsive community-based programs; 
• Increase relationship-based programs for girls that encourage communication and ensure emotional and physical safety; 
• Equip facilities with adequate physical and mental health services for girls, and, 
• Reform detention facilities’ policies and programs to avoid re-traumatizing girls.

“The very little money that does go towards services for girls is primarily for prevention,” said Gena Castro Rodriguez, executive director of Youth Justice Institute and an advisor on the report. Noting her dissatisfaction with the lack of money and resources for developing and evaluating programs targeting girls in the juvenile justice system, she explained, “What people don’t want to pay for is intensive treatment, like trauma therapy and then job training, for young women who are really in trouble.”

While California’s current fiscal environment presents significant challenges in the development and implementation of gender-specific policies and programs, the report suggests such an investment would contribute to a more effective juvenile justice system and save money in the long term.

Read a full copy of Gender Responsiveness and Equity in California’s Juvenile Justice System. This report is part of a series of policy briefs funded by The California Endowment to address critical issues facing the state’s juvenile justice system.

The Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law works to enhance public safety and foster a fair and accountable justice system through research, analysis, and collaboration.

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law For over a century, Berkeley Law has prepared lawyers to be skilled and ethical problem-solvers. The law school’s curriculum—one of the most comprehensive and innovative in the nation—offers its J.D. and advanced degree candidates a broad array of nearly 200 courses. Students collaborate with leading scholars and practitioners working on interdisciplinary issues at more than a dozen centers, institutes and clinical programs within its Boalt Hall complex. 



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