Florida’s juvenile-justice system locks up a higher percentage of underage girls than 46 other states, hands out stiffer punishment to girls than boys and doesn’t provide the kind of treatment girls need, says the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. On any given day, there are roughly 1,530 underage juvenile-delinquent girls locked away in Florida. Two-thirds are in long-term residential programs, where they stay for months to get treatment while serving sentences for a variety of crimes. The rest are in detention centers.
In the largest study of an all-girl juvenile offender population, the council found many treatment programs inadequate. “Girls’ programs are often boys’ programs painted pink,” said Barry Krisberg, council president. “What we have found is that these programs, by and large, don’t work.” The study found that Florida’s girl offenders often have more emotional problems and, therefore, different treatment needs. Of 319 Florida girls in juvenile programs, 49 percent were self-mutilators; 34 percent had attempted suicide; 35 percent were pregnant or had been; and 46 percent had an alcohol or substance-abuse problem. In contrast, boys more frequently broke the law because of peer pressure or gang activity, Krisberg said. The council, based in Oakland, Ca., and Children’s Campaign Inc., a Tallahassee child-advocacy group, will push the Florida Legislature to allocate more money for treatment of girl juvenile offenders.