While the juvenile arrest rate has dropped over two decades, it has not fallen so sharply for girls as it has for boys, Stateline reports. Minority girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated. Advocates say there aren't enough juvenile justice programs targeted to girls, whose needs are more complex than boys'. Many girls in the system have been physically or sexually abused or have mental health issues. Forty percent are gay, bisexual or transgender, compared with 14 percent of boys. Many are poor. Many have been funneled through the child-welfare system. Federal law requires states to assess how their juvenile justice programs serve girls and come up with concrete plans to improve them.
Some states are taking aggressive measures to address the juvenile justice gender gap. Florida and Connecticut have mandated gender-specific programming. Florida also closed a girls' maximum security facility. Hawaii and California have launched girls' courts, coordinated with community-based, gender-specific programs that rely on family involvement, therapy, peer support and special probation officers. Other states, such as Georgia, Minnesota and New Mexico, have laws aimed at reducing race or gender disparities in their juvenile justice systems. In Illinois and California, anti-discrimination laws allow minority girls to challenge racial disparities in the juvenile system by prohibiting disparate treatment. This month, the Massachusetts Legislature created a subcommittee to examine children who are in both the juvenile justice and foster care systems, with an eye toward racial and ethnic disparities.