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Girls and Juvenile Justice


Girlsand Juvenile Justice


Thenormal thinking in the society is that boys and males are usuallymore aggressive and violent in comparison to girls. As a result, itis expected that juvenile delinquency rates are always high amongboys than their female counterparts. However, recent figures indicatethat this long held belief in the society may be misleading to someextent. According to the FBI, girls have been the fastest growingoffenders and by the year 2004 they had accounted for about 30% ofjuvenile arrests1.In addition, in the year 2009, girls accounted for about 50% of allstatus offense cases as registered by court petition records. Be itcurfew, liquor law, runaway or truancy violations, the growth ofgirls through number of court petitions have been overwhelming in therecent years.

Witha growing number of girls in the juvenile justice system, manyquestions still remain unanswered. For instance, it is important tofind out whether the system that was initially targeted at andtherefore suitable for boys has been modified to accommodate girls.Other research questions regard the composition of this growth aswell as the main contributors of rising cases of juvenile offendersamong girls.


Whatare the push factors for rising cases of juvenile offenders amonggirls?

Arethe rates of girls of color in the juvenile justice system rising?

Isthe current juvenile system suitable for girls’ rehabilitationprocess?

Howdoes the growth pattern of girl delinquents relates or differs tothat of boys?

Relevanceof Project

Giventhat there have been indications of a growing number of juveniledelinquents among girls than it has been anticipated, it is importantto examine the patterns and implications of such growth. This projectis therefore relevant for several reasons. First, the presentjuvenile system was established at a time when boys were the mainjuvenile offenders. By looking at the preparedness and response ofthe present system on girl delinquents, it will be beneficial inidentifying areas for change. Secondly, girls were initially thoughtto be humble in the society and therefore it is important to examinewhy they seem to have changed in the recent years. More importantly,the project also looks at other issues like race in the determinationof this increase and therefore determining whether girls of colorhave contributed more to the rise in cases of juvenile offendersamong girls.


Thepaper reviews the available literature that address the issuesrelated to the juvenile system and girls. It then raises the mainstudy hypothesis that the rate of delinquency among girls of colorhas contributed a lot to this increase. The data collection andmeasuring techniques, analytic strategies, interpretation of resultsensue in that order. Finally, there is the conclusion that alsooutlines the limitations of this study and suggests areas for furtherresearch.


Theincrease in number of girls currently being served in the juvenilejustice system has been unprecedented. As a result, many writers havedwelt on some of the reasons for this increases, the challenges suchgirls face, the preparedness of the justice system as well as othercommunity workers to intervene and what can be done to improve thesituation. As a result, this section summarizes some of the issuesdiscussed by the various scholars on the mentioned areas.

Increaserates and push factors

First,many authors and studies have explored the rates of increase injuvenile related offences among girls in the US. According to Lowen2,girls have in the recent years recorded a faster growth in the numberof juvenile offences than ever before. However, the author alsoobserves an important composition in this increase. It has been foundthat minority females actually contribute a lot to this increase. Forinstance, girls of color, who are also mostly exposed to emotional orphysical abuse, constitute about two thirds of this increase. Thereare many ways in which the increase in number of juvenile offendersamong girls has been presented.

Themost important fact is the relatively different trend of increase ascompared to that of boys. Statistics in fact indicate that in theperiod ranging from the year 1995 to 2004, the juvenile systemexperienced a decrease of 13% in number of boys entering the systemas contrasted to an increase of about 14% in the number of girloffenders. However, boys still led in the number of arrests by theyear 2006 (70% of all juvenile arrests made). As a result, it is easyto note that while the number of boys in the juvenile system stilloutnumbers that of girls, it is the increase in number of girls thathas remained alarming considered that the number of boys has shown amarked decrease in the recent past.

Basically,in terms of the categories of offences, the patterns of arrests alsohighly contrast between boys on one hand and girls on the other.Whereas most boys commit criminal offences like violent and propertycrimes, girl delinquents are mostly involved in status offences liketruancy, runaway and underage drinking3.Girls are mostly affected by emotional and physical torture and hencethe likelihood of them to commit status offences. On the other hand,boys are generally considered to be aggressive, antisocial, drugaddicts and participation in destructive activities making them morecriminal offenders. As a result, the intervention measures for thetwo groups should be differentiated. As a result of a system thatmajorly favors the rehabilitation of boys than girls, may challengeshave been noted.


Thereare many issues that lead girls to juvenile delinquency that aremostly related to abuse or health problems. This also explains whymany girls are usually arrested for status offences as compared toboys who are mainly arrested for criminal ones. First, physical andmental abuse seems to have increased in many states and most of thesehave been directed to even young girls. According to the USdepartment of Justice, about 73%4of girls have been abused physically, sexually or emotionally. Thisrate even increases according to different states with the state ofCalifornia recording a 92% rate of abuse among girls.

Inmost cases, the various forms of abuse are often committed by peopleclose and trusted by the girls and this affects all the dimensions oftheir lives. Like in the case of girls of color5who are mostly abused, any form of abuse has been connected to arising case of juvenile arrests. There are also health relatedfactors to the rising number of juvenile offenders among girls.Post-traumatic stress disorder, sexually transmitted diseases,substance abuse and chronic health problems are some of thesefactors. As a result, gender plays a big role in the determination ofthe nature of offence.


Giventhat there has been a rise in the number of girl offenders, otherstudies have also examined the state of preparedness within thecurrent systems. The pressure on the juvenile system has in fact beenoverwhelming for the justice system and related ones like communityservice providers. This issue has been highlighted in twoperspectives. First, the whole system seemed to have been modeled forboys and therefore there are challenges in handling the girls.Secondly, girls have been found to avoid mental health, educationaldelivery or social systems as opposed to boys in the same situation.

Thecurrent system, therefore, has been found to lack a gender specificframework and has largely been biased towards the males. As a result,the need for reforms in the system has been highlighted as one of themost important for improving the current situation.

Genderspecific systems

Thereare many proposals into how the system can be modified to accommodatethe either gender. Gender specified services have differentcharacteristics that help in the rehabilitation and reduction ofrecurrent offences6.They are used to empower the either gender through the recognition oftheir issues. These systems particularly recognize that femaleoffenders are mostly affected by emotions and hence the need to valuetheir perspectives and listen to their stories. They are alsostructured to ensure that they are made to boost the trust of femalesgiven that many have been avoiding such services.


Emotionaland physical abuses are the major push factors for rising cases ofjuvenile offenders among girls

Therates of girls of color in the juvenile justice system have risen inthe recent past

Thecurrent juvenile system remains unsuitable for girls’rehabilitation process

Girlsare mainly involved in status offences as opposed to boys who areinvolved in crime

Dataand Methods

Havinglooked at the various issues revolving around the increase of girlsin juvenile system especially with respect to their minority status,this section outlines the study’s methodology. The data used in theproject, the independent variables and descriptions of control arediscussed. The importance of a good study methodology is that itensures the validity and authenticity of the paper. It is through arightly chosen methodology or research technique that the results canbe said to be accurate enough for informed decision-making. Surveymethod was the main research design employed in the study. This isbecause the study involved the imploration of a given social trend orbehavior among the study population.


Thestudy actually investigates the rising cases of girls findingthemselves in the juvenile justice system. Particularly, the studyrelies on the main hypothesis that girls of color have made up alarge chunk of the proportion of juvenile offenders or suspects. As aresult, the study population involved all girls currently enrolled inschools across the United States. By girls, the study mostly refersto young females ranging from ages 14 to 18 and currently in highschool. This however describes the general population to be studied.Conversely, the samples were picked from the schools that have ahigher number of black girls enrolled for study. Since emotional andphysical abuse has been found to be some of the main factors leadingto high rates of delinquency, the samples taken were mostly fromschool records in addition to the selected respondents.

Toidentify suitable respondents, the study employed the use ofprobability sampling. This was done at two levels. For the firstlevel, from the population of schools having a large population ofblack girls, probability sampling was used to identify 10 schoolsacross the United States. On the second level, for the schoolsidentified, about 20 respondents were picked for the survey throughthe same sampling technique. As a result, a total of 200 respondentswere engaged in the survey. DataCollection

Questionnairesand interview schedules were the main tools of collection employed inthe survey. However, due to the project’s scope, most of thequestionnaires were distributed online through e-mail to therespondents. Interviewing method was used for the 10 schools heads toprovide further clarity on the main issue of study. The two datacollection methods were chosen due to various reasons. First,structured questionnaires allow the researcher to obtain individualand confidential information which is useful for developing a goodconclusion. In addition, questionnaires were also used because theyprovided the respondents with the most convenient way of providingthe needed data given that they were mostly school going girls.

Onthe other hand, interviewing was important for various reasons.First, interview method is important for cases where clarity shouldbe sought. For the study, it was also important to arrange onlineinterviews with the respective school heads so that they wouldprovide their views on the main issue under study. Interviews weregood since they also enabled the researcher to have a firsthandknowledge of the current situation. Measurementinstruments

Statisticalpackage for social science (SPSS) was the main tool used in theanalysis and measurement of the data obtained in the survey. The useof this tool is important for the study’s accuracy since itprovides an automated and reliable7way of organizing and analyzing the data. In addition, SPSS also actsas a good presentation aid since it processes the data and relays itin a presentable format that can be easily understood by the user.


Thedependent variable for the study is the number of girls in Juvenilejustice system. The number or rate at which girls have beenincreasingly involved in the justice system has depended on a lot offactors already identified in the literature review. Emotional andphysical abuses are the main factors implored by the study as aresult, the independent variables examined in the survey fall withinthe two categories. Emotional abuse may originate from childhoodexperiences, adverse events or lack of proper care and guidance. Onthe other hand, physical abuse may be in the form of sexual, gang,caregiver, dating or witnessed violence.

Thementioned categories of violence therefore act as the independentvariables investigated by the study and thought to have a linkagewith the high rates of juvenile delinquency among girls of color.Enrollment history was therefore important for the study since itprovided much insight on the correlation between the independentvariables and the dependent one.


Evenas the study relied on the secondary sources to state its mainhypothesis, it was important to ascertain whether the rate ofjuvenile delinquency among girls was high among blacks and not anyother races. As a result, there were controls used in the survey toascertain this. Majorly, the data from school enrollment and drop outrecords was utilized for this purpose. The data from other races werecompared to find out if in fact many blacks were subject to truancyand runaways. Secondly, it was important to establish if emotionalbackground actually led to dropping out of school by conducting afurther background check on the history of the student’s family.This is because dropping out of school may also be connected to manyissues like lack of funds.


Thissection identifies the main analytical techniques employed in thestudy. Even after a valid data collection exercise, it is importantthat a good technique of analysis be picked for accuracy of finalinformation and easy interpretation. Hypothesis testing andregression models were employed in the analysis process in accordancewith the functionalities of SPSS, which is the main analytical toolemployed in the survey.


Thehypothesis tests followed a Pearson correlation matrix to indicatewhether the assertion made initially was valid or not. Thisdistinction was made with relation to the nature of individualhypotheses as further outlined below.

H1Emotional and physical abuse are the major push factors for risingcases of juvenile offenders among girls

Herethe test involved the measurement of the correlation indices betweenemotional and physical abuse on one hand and the rate of juvenileoffence on the other. A positive or higher index therefore indicatesthat the hypothesis is true and vice versa.

H2The rates of girls of color in the Juvenile Justice System have risenin the recent past

Herethe test involved the measurement of the correlation indices betweenracial or ethnical background (in this case black students) on onehand and the rate of juvenile offence for the related race on theother. A positive or higher index therefore indicates that thehypothesis is true and vice versa.

H3The current juvenile system remains unsuitable for girls’rehabilitation process

Forthis case, the test involved the measurement of the correlationindices between the current state of preparedness in juvenile justiceand related facilities on one hand and the rate of juvenile offenceon the other. A positive or higher index therefore indicated that thehypothesis is true and vice versa.

H4Girls are mainly involved in status offences as opposed to boys whoare involved in crime

Herethe test involved the measurement of the variance indices between thenumber of girls involved in status offences on one hand and those ofboys on the other. A positive or higher index in favor of the girlstherefore, indicates that the hypothesis is true and vice versa.


Theresponses from the girls and the respective school heads were codedusing a standard scoring for each category. This involved theassigning of frequencies for each response or data set according tothe number or rate of response to the affirmative. For instance,those who agreed that emotional discomfort was likely to lead tojuvenile delinquency were categorized under that factor and thenumber assigned as a frequency. Pearson correlation was used forcontinuous frequency dependent variables. On the other hand, logisticregression was employed for binary dependent variables.

Interpretationof results

Thissection highlights the main results obtained from the study.Generally, it provides a presentation of the interaction between thedependent and independent variables in order to test the hypothesisof the study. The validity of the data obtained is also obtained foraccuracy and reliability.


Whereasthe dependent variable was the rate of black girls in juvenilejustice systems, the independent variables constitute two categoriesbased on physical or emotional abuse as already mentioned in theprevious sections. Childhood experiences, adverse events or lack ofproper care and guidance on one hand and physical abuse may be inthe form of sexual, gang, caregiver, dating or witnessed violence onthe other8.

Ofthe independent variables, those related to victimization and abuseswere the most prevalent and therefore likely to lead to abuseaccording to the number of responses given. Care giver violence andexperiences or witnessing accounted for a larger index compared tothe other independent variables. On the other hand, the resultantoffences were also grouped with probation violation and runawaycrimes the most prominent among the girls according to records ofschool enrolment incorporated with those of the secondary datasources.


Estimationswere made in percentages, median ages and Pearson correlationindices. First, percentages are derived from the mean which is theaverage value of responses. However, for percentages, the value ofresponses is weighed against the total for each category and thenpresented over a hundred. This is important for analysis purposes.Median refers to the value in the middle within a given data set. Forthe median ages, the girls who have been involved in different formsof offences within a certain period from the age of 14 to 18 aregrouped and a middle age picked.

Lastly,data was also analyzed in terms of Pearson correlation whichbasically determines the relative value of an interaction between twoor more variables and assigns the value according to the degree ofrelationship9.As a result of the major forms of estimation used, the presentationsbelow were developed to relay information from the analyzed data.

Chart1: Offences committed by girls in Juvenile Justice System

Fromthe chart, probation violation tops the list of offences committed bygirls of color. Even though the girls are associated with non-violentor criminal offences, it is interesting to note that fraud was alsofound to be one of the major crimes. This might also indicate why therates of juvenile delinquency might be growing as those of boysdecrease.

Table 1: Median Age of emotional exposure

Category of abuse&nbsp

Median Age

Care giver violence


Gang Violence


Dating Violence


Sexual Violence


Witnessed Violence


Ifthe results relayed in this table are true, it is easy to note thatmany girls have reported to witnessing violence at a tender age giventhat age 14 was the lowest age among the respondents.

Table2: Pearson correlation indices of victimization categories






Multiple Abuse































Multiple Abuse






Accordingto table 2 above, witnessing and parental or care giver abuse mayhave resulted in victimization more than any other combination of theviolence. It is also important to note that many girls may have alsoindicated that they have at one time experienced multiple abuseswhich may be spread for a given period or even concurrent in nature.


Fromthe results, the hypotheses can be either confirmed or denied asfollows

H1Emotional and physical abuse are the major push factors for risingcases of juvenile offenders among girls

Forthe respondents, 95% were in agreement that emotional and physicalabuses were major variants. As a result, the hypothesis wasconfirmed.

H2The rates of girls of color in the Juvenile Justice System have risenin the recent past

Forthe respondents, 90% of records analyzed pointed towards the highnumber of black American girls involved in juvenile justice system.As a result, the hypothesis was confirmed.

H3The current juvenile system remains unsuitable for girls’rehabilitation process

Forthe respondents, 25% were in agreement that the current structuresand policies did not prove suitable for girls.

H4Girls are mainly involved in status offences as opposed to boys whoare involved in crime

Forthe respondents, 95% were in agreement that status crimes was themain zone for girls. However, records also indicated a rising numberof frauds among girls.


Fromthe study’s findings and literature review, it is easy to makevarious conclusions. Generally, the main research hypothesis statingthat the number of girls of color being involved in delinquent actsas being on the increase has been confirmed.

Risingnumber of girls in juvenile justice

Increaseshave been noted among girls generally when it comes to offencescommitted and subsequent numbers in the juvenile justice system. Eventhough boys still top the number of delinquents it is the number ofgirls in such institutions that has shown marked increases as theirmale counterparts continue to decrease in numbers. It is thereforetrue to state that if not checked, girls may soon become a majorconcern for the related authorities10.

Alarge proportion of blacks

Ofthe marked increase in number of girls, racial background has beenfound to correlate with proportionate increases. Girls of color havemainly constituted a good portion of the delinquents if the findingsof this study are anything to go by. This can be connected to therate of abuse among the blacks and therefore it is inherent thatabuse rates go down for the situation to improve.

Statusoffences and femininity

Ofthe recorded or processed cases in the juvenile justice system, girlshave been found to have been involved in mostly non crime relatedoffences. This therefore affirms the common held beliefs that genderdetermines the nature of offences. However, as figures of this studyindicate, girls may be potential criminal offenders if not wellguided.

Caregiverrelated abuse

Itis surprising to note that caregivers are rated highest among thepotential abusers of girls. Given that caregivers are in contact withthe girls for longer periods, this fact only points to the directionof which community workers and related institutions should approachthis whole issue of rising cases of delinquency among girls.

Tenderage violations and experiences

Evenmore astonishing is the fact that many girls have reported abuse attender ages. Most of these abuses have been in the form of childhoodexperiences and witnessed violence. This might point to the need forchildcare to improve and girls to have role model ship.

Limitationsof this paper

Thispaper does not look at why some of the violations have a strongereffect on juvenile delinquency rates than others. Secondly, it hasbeen noted that care givers have become the main violators as opposedto protectors. This study does not also establish why this has beenthe case since caregivers are most important for children. Theconnection between racial background and crime among girls of coloralso needs to be further explored through the cultural and valuesystems currently being upheld by this category of girls.Areasof further research

Asa result of the shortcomings noted above, it is important that acause- relationship study be conducted in order to establish thecorrelation that make girls of color more emotionally unstable andtherefore likely to be engaged in delinquent acts. This study onlylooks at the connection between experiences and status of crime. Itis important to look at how gender characteristics may predisposegirls to non – criminal violations as opposed to their malecounterparts. In this way, good intervention programs and systemswill be developed to eliminate the current trend.


AmericanBar Association and National Bar Association. Justice by gender: thelack of appropriate prevention, diversion and treatment alternativesfor girls in the justice system: a report. AmericanBar Association, National Bar Association,2001.

Chance,Beth and Rossman, Allan. InvestigatingStatistical Concepts, Applications, and Methods.California: Duxbury Press, 2005. Print

Chesney-Lind,Meda, and Randall G. Shelden. Girls,Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice.New York: John Wiley &amp Sons, 2013. Print

FederalBureau of Investigation. Crimein the United States 2000.Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001.Print

Lowen,Linda. “Juvenile Justice – Girls.” WomenIssues,Web. 7 Apr, 2014 &lthttp://womensissues.about.com/od/girlsteensyoungwomen/a/Girls-In-Juvenile-Justice-System.htm&gt.

Nanda,Jyoti. &quotBlind Discretion: Girls of Color &amp Delinquency inthe Juvenile Justice System.&quot UCLALaw Review59, no.6 (2012): 1502

OJJDP.“Girl’s Delinquency.” OJJDP,Web. 8 Apr, 2014&lthttp://www.ojjdp.gov/programs/girlsdelinquency.html&gt

Underwood,Marion. SocialAggression among Girls.New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2003.Print

Woolard,Jennifer. “Juvenileswithin Adult Correctional Settings: Legal Pathways and DevelopmentalConsiderations.Internationaljournal of Forensic Mental Health 4no.1 (2005):18

1 Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crime in the United States 2000 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001), 10.

2 Linda Lowen. “Juvenile Justice – Girls.” Women Issues, Web. 7 Apr, 2014 &lthttp://womensissues.about.com/od/girlsteensyoungwomen/a/Girls-In-Juvenile-Justice-System.htm&gt.

3 OJJDP. “Girl’s Delinquency.” OJJDP, Web. 8 Apr, 2014 &lthttp://www.ojjdp.gov/programs/girlsdelinquency.html&gt

4 Meda Chesney-Lind, and Randall G. Shelden. Girls, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice (New York: John Wiley &amp Sons, 2013), 2.

5 Jyoti Nanda. &quotBlind Discretion: Girls of Color &amp Delinquency in the Juvenile Justice System.&quot UCLA Law Review 59, no.6 (2012): 1502

6 American Bar Association, and National Bar Association. Justice by gender: the lack of appropriate prevention, diversion and treatment alternatives for girls in the justice system: a report (American Bar Association, National Bar Association, 2001), 10.

7 Meda Chesney-Lind and Randall G. Shelden. Girls, Delinquency, and Juvenile Justice (New York: John Wiley &amp Sons, 2013), 5.

8 Jennifer Woolard. “Juveniles within adult correctional settings: legal pathways and developmental considerations.”International journal of Forensic Mental Health 4 no.1(2005):18

9 Beth Chance and Rossman, Allan. Investigating Statistical Concepts, Applications, and Methods (California: Duxbury Press, 2005), 35.

10 Marion Underwood. Social Aggression among Girls (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2003), 42.