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Gender Injustice: System-Level Youth Justice Reforms for Girls

Despite decades of attention, the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has increased and their challenges have remained remarkably consistent, resulting in deeply rooted systemic gender injustice. The literature is clear that girls in the justice system have experienced abuse, violence, adversity, and deprivation across many of the domains of their lives—family, peers, intimate partners, and community. There is also increasing understanding of the sorts of programs helpful to these girls. What is missing is a focus on how systems—and particularly juvenile justice systems—can be redesigned to protect public safety and support the healing and healthy development of girls and young women.

Juvenile justice systems reform is occurring across the country as a result of a growing understanding of developmental and neurological differences between youth and adults, the high cost of incarceration, and the consistent failure of a punitive juvenile justice model. However, even as systems are initiating reforms and changing their approach, they are routinely failing to modify those reforms for girls or even to collect data on how girls, specifically, are affected by the problems they are seeking to remedy. As a result, the particular impact on girls of failures in the juvenile justice system is not understood and few juvenile reforms are tailored to girls’ needs and pathways into the system— meaning girls and young women are unlikely to fully benefit from system reforms.

Many of the problems discussed in this report are not unique to girls—and many of the suggested paths forward can benefit both boys and girls. However, because girls are frequently left out of reform discussions, an intentional focus on girls is needed to ensure that they fully benefit from system reforms. Indeed, in writing this report we were struck by the number of promising national and large-scale juvenile justice reform efforts that have not fully considered the role of gender in the problems they address or in the solutions they propose. If this intentional gender focus does not coexist with current large-scale system reforms, an important opportunity for gender justice and equity and developmental system reforms will be missed.

-From the report, “Gender Injustice: System Level Youth Justice Reforms for Girls.” Authored by: Francine T. Sherman and Annie Balck in partnership with The National Crittenton Foundation and National Women’s Law Center.

Infographic design by Jason Killinger

For a copy of the report download it below.