Blog: Girls

Girls and Opioids: Vulnerabilities & Opportunities

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.

Adolescent Girls in the Spotlight

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 PAGE3_NEWCOLORrates 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.

OJJDP Policy Guidance: Girls and the Juvenile Justice System

Girls are increasingly over-represented in the juvenile justice system; particularly girls living in poverty and young women of color, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in their recently released policy guidance: "Girls and the Juvenile Justice System." The significant increase of justice-involved girls over the past two decades was also demonstrated in September by Francine T. Sherman and Annie Balck in their "Gender Injustice" report; girls now account for almost 30 percent of youth arrests. OJJDP's new policy guidance calls for the identification and recognition of known risk factors - which lead girls to the justice system - and the implementation of developmentally informed approaches in order to reduce and divert the involvement of girls in the system. OJJDP's policy guidance aligns with the White House Council on Women and Girls' intention to advance equity for women and girls of color.

Identifying Risk Factors  

OJJDP's policy guidance identifies a number of risk factors which lead to involvement of girls in the juvenile justice system, also referred to as the sexual abuse/trauma-to-prison pipeline

President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated (The White House)
On Monday President Obama announced steps the Administration will take to create "meaningful criminal justice reform," including reforming the reentry process of formerly-incarcerated individuals. Among the measures announced was the "Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program Awards to Support Public Housing Residents," a program to make fresh starts possible for youth with expungeable convictions. In an effort to promote second chances for youth, the Obama Administration will no longer use the term "juvenile delinquent,' and will now exclusively use the term  "justice-involved youth."

Senate Judiciary Approves Criminal Justice Bill with Juvenile Provisions; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

Senate Judiciary Approves Criminal Justice Bill with Juvenile Provisions (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)
Yesterday the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would reform policies for youth in prison, as well as help with the process of re-entry into the community.

Racial Justice, LGBTQ Advocates Should Partner on School Issues; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

Report: Racial Justice, LGBTQ Advocates Should Partner on School Issues (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)
National advocacy organizations released a report this past week demonstrating the need for advocates of youth of color and advocates of LGBTQ youth to form stronger relationships in order to more effectively address disparities in school discipline, and to work toward dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Removing the Blinders: Acknowledging the Unique Needs of Girls of Color in the Juvenile Justice System

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.

Diverting At-Risk Girls Away from the Juvenile System

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.

New Report Examines Needs of Justice-Involved Girls, Parents and Staff

“Girls get judged too much—it’s OK for guys to get into trouble because they’re guys, but not for girls; this is not fair.”
“The system didn’t realize that the whole family was scared and didn’t understand what was happening.”
“There are not enough adequately trained people to effectively deal with child abuse and neglect issues. As a society, we don’t do a good job of treating these issues; we don’t do a good job of treating the whole being.”
This small sampling of comments represents what justice system-involved girls, their parents, and staff, respectively, shared during listening sessions held nationwide by the National Girls Institute (NGI). The purpose of the listening sessions was to assess the current training, technical assistance, and informational needs of state, tribal, and local entities serving girls who are justice-involved or at risk of involvement as well as their families.
A report detailing the results and implications of the listening sessions, “Voices From the Field: Findings From the NGI Listening Sessions,” was recently released by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) through a cooperative agreement with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). An executive summary of the report is also available.
The Numbers

Through her eyes: Girls and women in the juvenile justice system

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.

Podcast: girls in the juvenile justice system

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