Efforts to reform juvenile justice systems must include an intentional focus on redesigning systems to support the healing and healthy development of girls and young women, a report from the National Crittenton Foundation finds.
The report, Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls (72 pages, PDF), found that justice reform efforts routinely fail to tailor initiatives to issues that girls face or even to collect data about how girls are affected by the problems the reforms are designed to remedy. Despite research showing that girls often are criminalized for behaviors that result from the abuse, violence, adversity, and deprivation they have experienced, few reform initiatives intervene along those pathways or address the specific ways in which the system fails them. While the deep-rooted trauma and inequity they face are not necessarily unique to girls, the report argues, reform efforts need to include a gender-specific focus because girls have largely been left out of the discussion to date.
To ensure that girls benefit from juvenile justice reform efforts, the report calls for an alternative, developmental approach that takes into account the harmful social and environmental contexts for the girls' behavior. Funded by the Public Welfare and NoVo foundations and Boston College Law School, the report recommends decriminalizing offenses common to girls living in traumatic social contexts, such as verbally disruptive behavior at school or curfew violations; training law enforcement to respond in a supportive way and avoid arrests; and using a child welfare approach, rather than one rooted in the juvenile justice system.