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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Girls In the Juvenile Justice System

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Over the last few decades, across the country and in Allegheny County, the number of female juvenile offenders has steadily increased. But programs to help the girls who have offended or are at risk for offending haven’t increased.
(Keri Konik says the SNAP for Girls program has helped her daughter Dashaiylah control her anger. The program hopes to help at-risk girls from becoming juvenile offenders.)

Earlier this month, Allegheny County released their annual Juvenile Probation report. It didn’t look very different from reports from years past. Overall the number of juvenile arrests has remained steady, or even decreased. But the number of girls who are coming in has steadily increased. And they’re coming in for the kinds of crimes boys have more often come in for—crimes like aggravated assault.

It raises the question, are girls the new boys? Should they be treated as boys are?

There’s not much information on this topic but one place to start is juvenile court.

"All of our referrals are actually down. Probably 15 percent, 20 percent of our referrals over the last several years have gone down," said Russell Carlino, administrator of the county’s Juvenile Probation. "Twenty years ago when I got into the business, girls represented about 10 percent of our population, today it's about 20 or 25 percent. So now we have a larger percentage of our referrals coming from females," he said.

Carlino says no one is really sure why that is. One cause may be the chivalry theory.

"I mean the police used to say good girls don’t go to Shuman, we just take them home but now there is a price to play for equality I guess, because girls are being treated more like boys in the street too, and getting arrested. So it could be that the girls were committing those crimes before and they just weren’t arrested for it. They were just taken home," he said.

There’s something else: according to a paper from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, up to 92 percent of girls in the system have experienced some form of sexual, physical or emotional abuse, a much higher number than for boys. Those sorts of numbers aren’t tabulated in the county. But Russell Carlino says there’s no doubt it holds true locally.

Mary Hatheway has worked for the county’s Juvenile Probation for 27 years. She says working with girls is different.

"In dealing with them, there’s a lot of differences. Because females seem to have more compounded issues and they keep things inside them a longer period of time, and it takes them longer to trust staff or probation officers or whoever they are working with, so you end up working with them longer to build trust, and it's sometimes difficult to build trust because they have so many trauma," she said.

Mary says that what makes the increase in girls in the system more problematic is the difficulty in finding programs for them.

The rise isn’t just among the youth. According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, not just more girls but more women are ending up in the justice system.

One of the concerns in having so many young offenders is that they may grow to be adult offenders.