Girls’ Involvement in Justice System Dropped to Record Low Levels, Study Finds

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Photo by Lwp Kommunikáció via Flickr

Young girls were once considered the fastest growing segment in the juvenile justice system, but a new study from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) concludes that, by 2015, arrests involving females aged between 13 and 17 had declined to their lowest level since 1980.

The study, based on 2015 data, found that that arrests and commitments to juvenile detention have been on a downward curve over the previous decade, with arrests alone dropping 53 percent between 2006 and 2015.

The decline paralleled a similar drop in justice involvement of boys, leaving the proportion of females to males involved in the justice system roughly the same: roughly a third.

But a closer look at the figures also revealed some troubling trends. More than half of all female delinquency cases recorded in the data involved black or Hispanic youth, and two-thirds of the girls involved in delinquency cases were 15 and older.

In 2015, African-American females represented 35 per cent of the delinquency caseload, although they accounted for just 15 percent of the female youth population in the United States, the study said.

The OJP data was compiled from three national data collections: the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report; the national court data archive of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); and the OJJDP’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement.

The figures represent a sharp contrast to the late 1990s and early 2000s when statistics recorded an upsurge of girls involved in the justice system.

The study did not offer an explanation for the dramatic decline, but noted that justice policymakers started to focus specifically on the influences and factors driving young female delinquency with the creation of an OJJDP Girls Study Group in 2004.

“Boys have always accounted for the majority of youth involved in the juvenile justice system,” said the researchers. “Consequently, advancements in policy and practice tended to focus on males.”

National attention was drawn to the issue following a 2012 report by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, which noted that girls were the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges annually.

At the time, Georgetown University Prof. Peter Edelman, who co-authored the report, “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls,” said the system wasn’t doing enough to deal with troubled girls.

“Most girls who wind up in the justice system have family problems, trauma, or a history of abuse,” he said.

In 2015, according to the OJP study, larceny-theft, simple assault and disorderly conduct accounted for 50 percent of arrests and 56 percent of delinquency cases involving girls.  About three-quarters of the 600 arrests of young people for prostitution-related offenses in 2015 involved girls.

But the study also noted that overall youth arrests had dropped by 65 percent from a peak of 2.7 million in 1996. A similar pattern was noted in delinquency cases, which dropped 53 percent in 2015 to below 900,000 for the first time since the mid-1970s.

Additional Reading: “They’re Not Monsters: The Roots of Young Girls’ Violence.”

Read the full OJP study here

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