Girls Behind Bars: Disadvantages of Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

In the Juvenile Justice System in Maryland, girls are nearly three times more likely to suffer from abuse and other forms of trauma than boys and are at a greater risk to experience social, emotional, and environmental instability. However, there are not programs in Maryland that effectively recognize these differences in gender and provide treatment and services accordingly.

By using gender responsive programs and trauma informed care, girls in the juvenile justice system can get access to the services they need and reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Because girls in the juvenile justice system in Maryland have different needs and experiences than boys, they face different types of obstacles and therefore need access to gender-responsive programs in order to reach better outcomes for girls in the juvenile justice system. One of the most common disparities between girls and boys in the juvenile justice system is that girls are more likely than boys to suffer from serious health problems. This abuse can come in many forms and impact the girls in many different ways. To start, girls are more likely to have experienced victimization or abuse before being incarcerated. In a study done by Advocates for Children and Youth, it was reported that 64% of girls in the juvenile justice system in Maryland are reported to have experienced abuse.

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This abuse can cause many medical problems, of both a physical and mental nature, for the girls and lead to other mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Children, especially girls, in the juvenile justice system are more likely to suffer from mental disorders because their brains haven’t fully developed yet. Because of the slower development of the brain’s judgment center, adolescent youth face hormonal changes and difficulties in regulating emotion that increase their vulnerability to abuse and the impact of the resulting emotionally problems. Furthermore, in Maryland, few programs address the specific needs of sexual abuse victims, so they do not receive services that help them develop solutions to related problems, such as a lack of trust. In many cases, the girl was abused by a family member or someone else close to her, which is why a lack of trust is so common.

The people closest to the girls ultimately hurt them in terrible ways, so they are scared to trust anyone else. Without proper care, the health problems only get worse for the girls and can lead to other issues as well. Mental illness is another risk factor for the incarceration of girls in the juvenile justice system. In the juvenile justice system, girls have higher rates of what are termed “internalizing” mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and “externalizing” disorders, such as ADHD, conduct disorder, and other behavioral problems. They also exhibit more of the symptoms. In another report conducted by Advocates for Children and Youth, it was reported that over 55% of girls in the juvenile justice system in Maryland reported having mental health problems .

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, girls with mental illnesses only suffer more and are put at a greater risk for recidivism. A third factor related to the medical factors is that girls are physically different from boys and thus have different biological needs than males. One of the most pertinent differences is the chance of pregnancy. Findings from the report “Caged Birds Sing” state that 29% of girls in the juvenile justice system in Maryland had been pregnant. Young mothers in the juvenile justice system do not have access to the child care services or health services related to pregnancy that they need. They also do not have services that help them to properly deal with being away from their child while committed.

This can lead to a lot of emotional distress for them and contribute to other mental issues. They also lack resources that teach them about preventing teenage pregnancy in the first place. This can cause them many problems and challenges, as well as put them at an increased risk for incarceration and recidivism. Girls in the juvenile justice system are also more likely to experience social and environmental instability than boys, which increases their likelihood for recidivism. Environmental instability means that the girl does not live in one single location, and instead frequently moves around. There are a multitude of reasons and causes for this instability, but generally, girls facing environmental instability are also involved in the child welfare system.

In Maryland, it is reported by Advocates for Children and Youth that of girls dually involved in the juvenile justice system and child welfare system, 80% of girls experienced multiple out-of-home placements. The average number of these multiple out-of-home placements was 9.3. This means that from around age six or seven to before age eighteen, the average girl in the juvenile justice system has had to move to over nine different places with nine different people in charge, which averages out to about one year spent at each location. It is very difficult for the girls to form any sort of support network because they move around so often, which leads to a lack of environmental stability in their lives. In an interview by Advocates for Children and Youth with a formerly dually-involved girl, one young woman stated that “As she became older, she felt like a nomad that was unwanted.

She never felt stable in her placements”. This demonstrates the impact that instability can have on a girl and why it can lead to acting out and possible incarceration. Familial instability is another common type of instability. This means that there is some type of problem at home that leads to a disturbance in the girl’s life and possibly causes a lot of other challenges. In the aforementioned report by Advocates for Children and Youth, it was also stated that over 90% of girls in the juvenile justice system in Maryland were reported to have high family related needs.

There are a variety of different scenarios that can cause instability in a family. Common types of familial instability include parents being divorced, having a single parent, the death of a parent or close relative, or being involved in the child welfare system. Instability can cause girls to attempt to run away from home or act out in some other manner because they do not have the basic structure and support a family is meant to provide. These family connections and environmental structure are vital for girls. In many cases, girls feel ignored, misunderstood, and just want to be listened to.

In the Advocates for Children and Youth interviews, “65 percent of the young women who were interviewed emphasized the importance of social stability, positive peer role models and/or lasting relationships with their biological families. Missing their family of origin or running away from out-of-home placements to see them was reported in 10 out of the 20 cases”. This demonstrates the necessity of family for the girls. There are not many services available to girls in the juvenile justice system in Maryland. They would greatly benefit from these programs because they would recognize where the central problems lie and allow the girls to find effective and lasting solutions to the problem. One example of an effective plan is using gender- responsive programs.

These are programs that are exclusively for girls in the juvenile justice system and work to focus on the specific needs of females. As explained in a report by the Georgetown Center for Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, there are five main elements of gender responsive programs. They must be comprehensive in order to weave family, community, and systems together for girls. They must also be safe and promote healing from trauma caused by physical and psychological abuse. A third aspect is that they are designed to be empowering by addressing the needs of the girls while encouraging leadership and the development of girls’ strengths.

They are also community and family focused because they are based in the community and foster healthy family relationships and sustainable community connections. Finally, they are relational because they support continuous, positive relationships for girls with older women, family, and community. Although relatively new, gender responsive programs have been shown to be successful in states, such as Connecticut and Florida. Trauma-informed care is another possible solution that would allow girls in the juvenile justice system to receive proper and more effective treatment and care. Currently in Maryland, girls in the system have higher medical needs than boys, but receive less hours of treatment, according to Megan Lucy, who works for Advocates for Children and Youth. The main goal of trauma-informed care is to take into consideration the past history or trauma a girl has experienced when determining their sentence so that they receive proper help to overcome their trauma.

Every decision made for the girl is based on how helpful it will be in addressing her specific issues. There is not one specific type of therapy or program that can help all the girls because every girl’s situation is different. Trauma informed care recognizes this and helps to find the most effective program for the girl to overcome her problems. This allows them to target the specific needs of the girls and reduce their chances for recidivism. Currently, some of these programs are being used in Maryland by the Department of Juvenile Services. The Thomas J.

S. Waxter Children’s Center is a Department of Juvenile Services facility that holds girls before they are adjudicated by a judge. It used to also house the secure treatment facilities for girls, but these were recently moved to the J. DeWeese Carter Center. The J. DeWeese Carter Center was a newly opened facility by DJS in Maryland to replace the committed program at Waxter.

It uses gender-responsive and trauma- informed care, but the services can only be provided to a maximum of 14 girls. Additionally, it is very new, so the effectiveness of the programs is unknown. There are also currently plans to move the rest of the pre-adjudication facilities from Waxter to a new center in Carroll County. A third program is the Female Intervention Team. It is responsible for case management of every young woman adjudicated delinquent by the Court in Baltimore. FIT has 2 supervisors assigned and 8 case managers overseeing about 300 youth .

All case managers have gender responsive training, but the team is severely understaffed, with each case manager responsible for approximately 38 girls. This makes it a lot more challenging to form the necessary relationships and connections with all the girls they serve because they look after so many. To conclude, girls have different needs and experiences than boys in the juvenile justice system and therefore need access to services that recognize these differences, including physical and medical health problems and social and environmental instability. Some possible solutions that do this include trauma-informed care and gender-responsive programs. There are already some measures being taken in Maryland to use these programs, but they need to be expanded in order to reach the maximum amount of girls and be as effective as possible.

Because girls in the Juvenile Justice System are physically and emotionally different from boys, they face different types of obstacles and therefore need access to gender-responsive programs in order to recognize their specific needs as females, help them develop solutions to their problems, and reduce their chances for recidivism.