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Girls and Status Offenses: Is Juvenile Justice Still Sexist?

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Abstracts Volume: 20 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1988) Pages: 144-165
M Chesney-Lind
Date Published
22 pages
This article reviews what has happened to girls processed by the juvenile justice system during the last decade, with attention to the impact which Federal deinstitutionalization and diversion efforts have had on sexism in the juvenile justice system.
A major source of bias in juvenile justice is the predisposition of juvenile courts to uphold parental authority over juveniles. Juveniles, particularly females, however, may be manifesting deviant behaviors (running away, sexual promiscuity, etc.) because they have been sexually and physically abused by their parents. Studies of police responses toward juveniles suggest that official data showing an increase in female delinquency is due primarily to changes in police practices toward female juveniles, i.e., a tendency for police to be less lenient toward female juveniles. Regarding the courts' handling of female juveniles, there is evidence of the historical double standard which leads to harsher dispositions for female status offenders (particularly for running away and for sexual promiscuity) than for male juveniles. Although Federal law, notably the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, has encouraged States to deinstitutionalize and divert status offenders, studies indicate that States have not responded enthusiastically to these twin goals. These reforms are being increasingly criticized and reversed. Unless women's groups begin monitoring juvenile courts to prevent further erosion of the victories of the deinstitutionalization movement, there may once again be the jailing of large numbers of young women 'for their own protection.' 96 references.