Delaware Judge Chandlee Johnson Kuhn is leading an effort to change the way the state deals with the increasing number of girls charged with crimes, which has nearly tripled in the past decade to reach almost 4,400 in 2004, reports the Wilmington News Journal. Girls now make up a third of the juveniles charged with a crime, compared with about 22 percent in 1995. National figures are similar. Girls usually are victims of physical or sexual abuse before committing crimes, Kuhn said. They enter court with more complex emotional and mental baggage than boys, and it takes judges and social workers a long time to peel away layers of issues.
An estimated 80 percent of girls in the juvenile-justice system previously experienced some kind of abuse or trauma that required the involvement of state child-protection workers or mental-health counselors, Kuhn said. State child-welfare officials last fall proposed a four-year, $11.8 million plan to update and enhance Delaware’s juvenile-justice system, including the way girls’ cases are handled. The proposal includes money for extra mental-health services, more prevention measures, and additional staffing. Kuhn, a Family Court judge since 1998, said concerns about the growth and complexity of girls' cases spurred her to create the Delaware Girls Initiative, a group of government and private officials who have been studying the issue and looking for ways to improve the system. The group got a $100,000 grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to pay for a study of Delaware's juvenile justice system by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, Ca., and guidance from the PACE Institute, a nonprofit group in Jacksonville, Fl., that has helped agencies in 25 states improve programs for troubled girls.