Georgetown Law Releases Comprehensive Report on Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

October 23, 2012 —

Today, the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy at Georgetown Law releases a report that lays out gender-specific reforms for girls in the juvenile justice system.  The report, Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States, offers innovative solutions for federal and state governments and suggests strategies to adopt and implement critical improvements based on successful reforms in Connecticut, Florida and Stanislaus County, California.  

“It has been over 10 years since a group has produced a comprehensive report highlighting state reforms on girls in the juvenile justice system,” said Georgetown Law Professor Peter Edelman, faculty co-director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy.  “Our report provides tangible recommendations and effective solutions that states and local jurisdictions can implement to support girls in the juvenile justice system, a growing population that has been thrust into a system, such as it is, that is aimed at boys.” Edelman and former executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, Liz Watson co-authored the report.

The report emerged from the policy series, Marginalized Girls: Creating Pathways to Opportunity, convened by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy; The National Crittenton Foundation; and the Human Rights Project for Girls.  The series focuses on improving public systems’ response to the challenges facing marginalized girls and young women.  

According to the report, a typical girl in the system is a non-violent offender. She is low-risk and high-need.  She enters the system with a set of challenges that include trauma, violence, neglect, mental and physical problems, family conflict, pregnancy, residential and academic instability and school failure.

 “These are marginalized girls.  These girls are not a threat to society, and many are the victims of sexual and physical violence,” said Wansley Walters, Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.  “The good news is that there are examples of positive programming that we implemented along with other jurisdictions that properly address girls’ needs.”  

Sample recommendations for states include:

•Gaining a better understanding of the issue

•Researching and diagnosing the problem

•Informing legislators and the public

•Piloting demonstration projects

•Training staff to better understand the needs of girls

Recommendations for the federal government include:

•Developing a stronger standardized assessment tool for girls entering the system

•Encouraging national standards for gender-responsive programming

•Mandating the Department of Justice to improve training and technical assistance among law enforcement and juvenile justice staff

•Closing the loophole that allows states to detain juveniles for technical violations of court orders

“The reforms outlined in this report can make a real difference for the many jurisdictions that struggle with the influx of girls, who are like I was as a teen, in the juvenile justice system years ago,” said Danielle DeLand of The National Crittenton Foundation.  “It is now up to advocates like me, stakeholders and administrators to incorporate these strategies to aid in future reform efforts so other girls can set a high bar and not grow up behind them.”

The report is available here:

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