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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Girls in the Juvenile Justice System (From Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice: Original Feminist Readings, P 27-43, 2001, Claire Renzetti and Lynne Goodstein, eds. -- See NCJ-197570)

NCJ Number
Meda Chesney-Lind
Date Published
17 pages
This chapter examines the problems in girls' delinquent behavior that bring them to the attention of the juvenile justice system, as well as the gender bias that characterizes the system.
Feminist criminologists have faulted all theoretical schools of delinquency for assuming that male delinquency, even in its most violent forms, is somehow a "normal" response to boys' situations. Yet girls who share the same social and cultural milieu as delinquent boys but who are less delinquent or violent are regarded as abnormal or "over controlled" (Cain, 1989). Studies of youth entering the juvenile justice system in Florida have compared the "constellations of problems" presented by girls compared with boys who have entered detention. These studies have found that female youth were more likely than male youth to have abuse histories and contact with the juvenile justice system for status offenses, and male youth had higher rates of involvement with various delinquent offenses. The findings suggest that many young women are running away from home to escape sexual victimization; once on the streets, however, they are forced further into crime in order to survive. The backgrounds of adult women in prison underscores the significant links between women's childhood victimizations and their later criminal careers. The feminist perspective holds that unlike boys, girls' victimization and their response to that victimization are specifically shaped by their female status. Although congressional mandates have emphasized the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, the number of girls and boys arrested for non-criminal offenses has continued to increase. The last two decades have seen an increase in the number of youth confined in "private" facilities, particularly the number of girls. After a dramatic decline in the early 1970's, the number of girls held in public training schools and detention center has declined little; and the number of girls in private facilities has soared. There is an indication that this overrepresentation of girls in detention impacts girls of color more than white girls. Much more attention must be given to policies toward girls in the juvenile justice system. 92 references and 4 discussion questions