Girls in MD Juvenile System Get Long Terms for Minor Crimes

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Young women are disproportionately locked up for misdemeanors, which are low-level offenses, in Maryland’s juvenile justice system. They are more likely than boys to be taken before a judge for probation offenses such as running away, breaking curfew and defying their parents, the Baltimore Sun reports. Once in the system, they are often detained longer. At the state’s most secure facilities, they are committed 25 percent longer, on average, than boys, even though girls are less likely to be there for felonies or violent offenses. There are racial disparities as well. African-American girls in Maryland are nearly five times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than white girls. That’s twice the national disparity.

Juvenile advocates and public defenders say facilities for girls are dilapidated or unsafe. They offer fewer vocational and treatment options, compared with the facilities for young men, even though the young women are more likely to have come from fractured families, experienced abuse or neglect, suffered from mental illness, or been victims of sex trafficking. “It’s a disgrace,” said Debbie St. Jean, director of the Juvenile Protection Division in the state public defender’s office, a specialized unit that monitors the conditions of confinement. “Girls don’t have anywhere near the same resources that boys do.” Advocates and attorneys say they are not only concerned about conditions in state-run facilities but in treatment programs and group homes that contract with the Department of Juvenile Services to house and rehabilitate young offenders. The department has stopped sending young women to one residential treatment center and one group home for failing to comply with departmental polices and standards, officials said. The juveniles have been diverted to other facilities.

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