In two separate blog posts in 2016, we discussed opioid use rates and substance use issues among adolescent girls involved with juvenile justice. In July 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health (OWH) released a report on opioid use, misuse, and overdose in women. The report provides information on the gender-specific issues and gaps in knowledge regarding females with substance use concerns/disorders. The report discusses the differences among females and males regarding the progression of substance use, the biological, social, and cultural issues (e.g., pain; relationships; family/parenting; trauma, determinants of health), effective treatments and barriers to implementation, and areas for further research. As it relates to adolescent girls (ages 12-17 years old), the report indicates they are more likely to use and become dependent on non-medical uses of prescription drugs as compared to adolescent boys. Access to prescription drugs can come from a home medicine cabinet and may help relieve mental health or physical pain symptoms and/or be part of their peer culture.
Since joining Reclaiming Futures, I have listened to the open meetings of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ). Supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), FACJJ (pronounced FAC Jay) members are individuals appointed to State Advisory Groups. Created in 2002, FACJJ members are responsible for having knowledge of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and to encourage state compliance with the four core protections:
In 2008 my colleagues and I wrote for and were awarded a recovery-oriented systems of care grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The primary goal of this grant was to develop and implement a trauma-informed and recovery-oriented system of care for adolescent girls. My colleagues and I were concerned about the increasing juvenile justice involvement and substance use rates among adolescent girls with little to no increases in their rates of enrollment in treatment. Our previous research highlighted the significant levels of trauma and other co-occurring mental health problems among girls. In addition, we found girls had higher rates of “harder” drug use such as cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin/opiates as compared to boys. And on the positive side, we also found that girls who accessed treatment responded really well and made significant behavioral improvements over time.
Other juvenile justice and behavioral health policy makers and program developers have recognized the importance of responding to these increased rates of behavioral health and substance use problems among adolescent girls. We now have a better understanding that while males and females are equally vulnerable to addiction, that from a physiological standpoint, females can have lower tolerance and may progressive to physical dependence at different rates. We also have a better understanding of the critical role played by trauma in substance use and addiction as well as a broader range of available approaches for providing gender-specific and trauma-informed treatment. The positive news is that we have seen the rates of illicit substance use significantly decrease for girls from 2008 to 2014 (26.5% versus 23.7%) and decreases in comparison to boys.
As anyone who knows about the juvenile justice system will tell you, girls who are in the system are there because of a history of abuse. But why girls are there and the unique needs faced by girls of color is something largely ignored, even by those working in the justice system. For example, we know that girls’ brains develop earlier than boys do; we also know that so do their bodies. Unique factors such as these are precisely why I recently wrote and presented, “Blind Discretion: Girls of Color and Delinquency in the Juvenile Justice System.”
The juvenile justice system was designed to empower its decisionmakers with a wide grant of discretion in hopes of better addressing youth in a more individualistic and holistic, and therefore more effective, manner. Unfortunately for girls of color in the system, this discretionary charter given to police, probation officers, and especially judges has operated without sufficiently acknowledging and addressing their unique position. Indeed, the dearth of adequate gender/race intersectional analysis in the research and stark absence of significant system tools directed at the specific characteristics of and circumstances faced by girls of color has tracked alarming trends such as the rising number of girls in the system and relatively harsher punishment they receive compared to boys for similar offenses. This willful blindness must stop.
While the number of boys in the juvenile justice system has dropped over the past decade, the number of girls in the system has actually increased. But that doesn't mean we have more violent girls nowadays. Over half the girls in the juvenile justice system are detained for non-violent transgressions, including skipping school, breaking curfew or running away, reports NPR reporter Carrie Johnson. And most of the girls have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse.
So what can we do?
At Reclaiming Futures, we believe that through treatment and pro-social activities, communities can reclaim their troubled young people. We agree with Minnesota prosecutor James Backstrom who told Johnson that, "if we're going to reduce crime in America in the long run, we have to start with our kids, with early intervention and prevention efforts." That's why we create teams of juvenile court judges, treatment providers, probation officers and community officers to coordinate efforts and intervene in the lives of troubled girls and boys. By devoting resources to our young people and connecting them with treatment and caring adults, we can turn their lives around while keeping our communities safe.
In a new report examining the juvenile justice system’s treatment of girls, Francine Sherman finds that while juvenile courts have made progress in employing evidence based practices as a whole, girls are still being more harshly punished than boys. The report, “Justice for Girls: Are We Making Progress?” is available in full on UCLA’s website (direct PDF download). I’ve pulled the main findings from the report and included them below:
In 2012, twenty years after the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act instructed states to assess their systems for gender responsiveness, girls continue to be detained and committed for offenses that would not result in similarly harsh treatment for boys.
However, we are at the beginning of a more developmentally centered and data-driven age in juvenile justice in which systems have the tools to be more reflective and intentional in policy and practice.
The increased use of data in juvenile justice systems is particularly promising given the hidden nature of so much of the gender-based inequity in justice system practices.
Although we appear to be repeating past mistakes by sweeping girls into the system when they are victims of domestic violence, the system itself is more aware of girls’ needs, the outcry is quicker and more informed, and practices are measured against a progressive movement away from secure confinement for youth.
A report released this month takes an in-depth look at how girls are represented in North Carolina's juvenile justice system, how the numbers have shifted over the years and why females are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system despite the overall decrease in juvenile crime. Representing Girls In the Juvenile Justice System, released by the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender, looks at not only the characteristics and risk factors of girls in the juvenile justice system, but also offers several best practices to best serve the unique issues this population faces.
Since the early 1990s, due to policy changes, the number of girls in the juvenile justice system has been on the rise. Basically, the increased amount of girls in the juvenile justice system can be credited to the “relabeling of girls’ family conflicts as violent offenses, shifting police practices concerning domestic violence, processing of misdemeanor cases in a gender-biased manner and a misunderstanding of girls’ developmental issues,” according to the report.
In partnership with several juvenile justice advocates around the country, Cathryn Crawford, a national expert in juvenile and criminal justice, has edited a new book entitled "Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America" (IDEA 2012).
Through a combination of original and reprinted articles written by academics, lawyers, and advocates, “Promise Unfulfilled” addresses the problems with designing and implementing effective systems to deal with children in conflict with the law, and it describes various challenges children in the juvenile justice system face and offers suggestions for reform.
The authors include James Bell, Founder and Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, who wrote on the over-incarceration of youth of color; Jacqueline Bullard, an appellate defender in Illinois, who wrote on best interest versus expressed interest representation of minors in delinquency court; and Neelum Arya (Barry Law, Campaign for Youth Justice) who wrote on state legislative victories from 2005-2010 in the area of removing youth from the adult criminal justice system. I have a chapter that is adapted from my article, Culture Clash: The Challenge of Lawyering Across Difference in Juvenile Court, 62 Rutgers L. Rev. 959 (2010). There are also chapters on the school-to-prison pipeline, addressing the mental health needs of juveniles, and best practices for working with girls in the delinquency system.
Gender Differences in the Longitudinal Impact of Exposure to Violence on Mental Health in Urban Youth (abstract). Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 40, No. 12, December 2011.
What it’s about: This study examined differences in the mental health symptoms experienced by boys and girls who have been exposed to violence. Researchers surveyed 615 Chicago-area young people about their mental health at age 14 and again at age 16.
Why read it: Most research on young people’s exposure to violence reports broadly on the negative ways witnessing and experiencing violence affect their mental health. This study is more specific, exploring particular symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociation. Prior research shows that homeless youth suffer from these problems more often than other youth, so this study may be of particular interest to staff of runaway and homeless youth programs.
This is also one of few studies to look at how girls and boys experience these mental health problems differently.
Biggest takeaways for youth workers: Boys reported more exposure to violence than girls on average. Girls who had experienced violence were more likely than boys to experience dissociation. This symptom leads youth to detach themselves from their emotions, bodies or immediate surroundings.
Each year thousands of young women run away from home. To survive, some girls steal. Some sell their bodies for money or a place to stay. Many use drugs and alcohol to cope with life on the streets. Eventually, many girls end up in the juvenile justice system.
The National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth recently spoke with Lawanda Ravoira, director of the National Girls Institute, about how to keep homeless young women out of trouble, out of jail and engaged with programs that provide support.
NCFY: Which girls are most at risk for becoming involved in the juvenile justice system?
Ravoira: Girls become involved in the system from all over, but one of the first predictors is school failure (uneven grades, suspensions and expulsions). The other big thing is trauma. We know that 92 percent of girls entering juvenile justice have been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Girls coming into the system have much higher rates of trauma and victimization than boys.
NCFY: How do girls respond to trauma differently from boys?
About 80 percent of girls accused of misdemeanors in Maryland were committed to residential treatment centers compared to 50 percent of boys, according to statistics from Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services (DJS).
The statistics, part of the Female Offenders Report, show more than two-thirds of girls sent to residential treatment centers were committed for offenses such as fighting and shoplifting or for drug offenses.
“That disparity between boys and girls is troubling and quite large,” Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed told Capital News Service. “It’s something I’m concerned about. It’s a very complicated question, but it’s something that merits explanation.”
The Maryland Legislature in 2011 passed a law requiring DJS to provide statistics breaking down services for boys and girls. Lawmakers grew concerned because DJS has the authority to make decisions about how youth committed to the juvenile justice system are treated.
Good news from the Department of Justice: They've launched the National Girls Institute (NGI) website which will make it much easier for practictioners, analysts and families to access information on girls in the juvenile justice system. Founded in 2010, the NGI is a research-based training and resource clearinghouse designed to advance understanding of girls’ issues and improve program and system responses to girls in the juvenile justice system.
"We have a responsibility to educate professionals and the public about what programs work to keep girls safe and out of trouble," said OJJDP Acting Administrator Melodee Hanes in the DOJ's press release. "This website is an important step forward in our efforts to improve the lives of girls across the country."
The website's resources range from technical assistance and training materials to data and tool sets for practictioners as well as resources for parents and girls in the system.
I have a 15-year-old son who, in the past year, has gone from a quiet, well- mannered, well- liked child to a stranger to me. He hasn’t attended school in about two months. He comes and goes as he pleases, he will not respect the curfews I set for him and sometimes is gone for days on end. He has started smoking and he has admitted to smoking weed. He doesn’t listen to anyone and if we try and talk to him he just leaves. I don’t want to throw him out of the house but I just don’t know what to do. His behavior is taking its toll on me. — Noreen
Many parents are struggling with similar problems. So the first thing Noreen should know is that she shouldn’t feel alone.
Look in your neighborhood or church and notice all the parents who seem to have it all together. One of the very first things I would advise you to do is to seek counsel from some of those successful parents. I would also strongly encourage you to establish contact with your son’s school to request assistance in addressing his specific challenges. Our tax supported schools deal with these sorts of challenges every day and many have targeted resources at their disposal to counter these problems. You must ask for information on specific adolescence or male-oriented programs that have proven successful over the years. Then, you must then develop a relationship with the leaders of that program to give them a sense of urgency about your son. Do not be put off by their busy schedules. The old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is very true when dealing with most large organizations. You must be diligent and persistent if you truly want to redirect the life of your son.
I would then encourage you to work on establishing lines of communication with your child. It is not unusual for adults to lose the ability to communicate with their children effectively. You must now identify what those barriers are and strategically remove them one at a time.
I would enlist the support of a valued male relative or friend who can oftentimes better identify with younger males because they have already transitioned into adulthood. They can better identify and anticipate what some of the experiences your son has/will encounter. Young men are often confused about where they fit in life and need actual role models to help them work through this sometimes very difficult period. You must partner with a dependable male who has good communication skills, who is willing to spend some-one-on-one time with your son. Many schools and organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, scouting and athletic teams have very active and effective mentoring programs for young people. They do a thorough job of screening and training the adult mentors who work with their students.
It was like a giant switchboard, the kind you see in 30s and 40s movies, a bevy of operators plugging in a crisscross of wires, taking calls, making connections, a cacophony of chatter.
That image came to me recently as I walked into the lobby of the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. The only difference was that the conversations filling the hall were about the same thing: girls and young women in the juvenile justice system.
We were there — teachers, social workers, lawyers, mentors, youth workers, college students and professors — for the Through Her Eyes conference sponsored by the Center for Human Development, a regional social services agency. This annual gathering, now in its seventh year, came about when a number of professionals expressed concern over the increased number of at-risk young females in “the system,” and the need for “best practices” to help this growing population. The Center for Human Development stepped up to address their concerns with the first Through Her Eyes conference in 2004.
This increase isn’t just a regional issue, however. It is a nationwide trend. According to the Institute on Women & Criminal Justice the number of women in prison has grown 832 percent in the past three decades. (The male population grew 416 percent during the same period.) Of this population African American girls and young women are the fastest growing group. The Department of Justice reports that black females are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than Hispanics and 4.5 times more likely than whites.
David Onek, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, recently spoke with Gena Castro Rodriguez about the unique needs of girls in the juvenile justice system. Castro Rodriguez is the executive director of the Youth Justice Institute and has worked with youth in the juvenile justice system for the past 18 years.
In this Criminal Justice Conversations podcast, Castro Rodriguez explains that girls have a very different experience with the juvenile justice system than boys. In particular:
- Girls get involved in the juvenile justice system for, with, or because of another person (often a romantic partner)
- Girls have multiple contact with the system, often working their way up to serious crime
- On TV: "Young Kids, Hard Time"
On Sunday, November 20 at 10 pm EST, MSNBC will premiere a one-hour documentary that throws back the veil on the reality of young kids serving long sentences in adult prisons. (Hat tip to the Campaign for Youth Justice.)
- Reform: D.C.'s juvenile justice system could be restructured
Council member Jim Graham, charged with overseeing the city's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, is considering a radical change to the agency via, "job development programs, we would have literacy, we would be dealing with this marijuana addiction, having mental health because a lot of these kids are abused. It would be different."
- Civil citations are key to Florida's juvenile justice reform
On July 1, 2011, Florida law began requiring counties to establish a local civil citation process for youth that requires them to admit to the offense, perform community service and possibly participate in intervention services. The non-recidivism rate is 93% in one FL county that has been using this program for two years.
- New community care option for girls in Baltimore
Girls going through the juvenile justice system now have an alternative to detention while waiting to be adjudicated - an alternative that’s been available to boys for years. Some can now attend a youth monitoring program that allows them to live at home and attend a reporting center.
Juvenile Justice System News (Mostly)
- Work in the juvenile justice system? Seen kids hammered for minor drug offenses because they occurred within 1,000 feet of a school? Well, those laws may not work very well. In 2008, the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) did a thorough analysis and critique in one Massachusetts community, called The Geography of Punishment: How Huge Sentencing Enhancement Zones Harm Communities, Fail to Protect Children. (Also, if you happen to have a used Mac laptop you want to give away as a tax-deductible gift, PPI could use one for its many volunteers. Just use the contact form on the PPI website to learn more.)
- Here's a sobering Washington Post editorial on the sexual violence and exploitation endured by young girls on the margins of our society. And guess where many of these girls end up? The juvenile justice system. (Hat tip to Nancy Gannon Hornberger and the Act-4-JJ Facebook page.) Corroboration comes from a new study for the National Institute of Justice showing that poly-victimization is pervasive among girls in the juvenile justice system, based on a sample of girls in South Carolina.
Curious about whether the risk assessments used in the juvenile justice system are appropriate for girls? Wonder if the one used in your jurisdiction measures up?
The Girls Study Group, set up by The Office of Juvenile Delinquency and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), recently examined 143 juvenile risk assessment instruments with those very questions in mind, and compiled their results in an online database.
This is timely, given that a recent study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency indicated that risk assessments have gotten less effective in recent years, and an article in a journal last year that argued that juvenile risk assessments lagged behind research on how best to use them. (Photo by Thuy Pham.)
- Interested in what restorative justice looks like when it's implemented in juvenile court? Here's a long article about two restorative justice programs in Oakland: one uses a peer court to address low-level offenders; the other works with kids leaving detention after many months.
- Want data on the well-being of kids in your state? Want to know how your state ranks compared with others? Check out the KIDS COUNT Data Center just launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which also released its KIDS COUNT Databook for 2009.