Girls constitute the fastest growing sector in the juvenile system. However, unlike boys, juvenile female offenders have a high need and low risk disproportionate which means that they face various challenges and thereby require critical needs and services while in the detention centers (Watson and Edelman, 2012). The differences in the profiles, as well as the service needs of the boys and girls in detention centers, is an enormous challenge to those in the justice system. Many of the girls have experienced traumatic events in the arrest centers ranging from sexual violence, physical abuse, and neglect. These events have served to wound them not only physically but also emotionally. The juvenile justice system favors boys as most of the services offered are mainly for the male offenders leaving any girl offenders at a disadvantage. According to Leve, Chamberlain, and Kim (2015), the juvenile justice system is inadequately equipped to serve girls as the stakeholders have failed to implement the fundamental reforms proposed by researchers and criminologists on the needs of the girls in the detention facilities. As such, a need arises for the juvenile justice system to be reformed so that it ensures an equal treatment of boys and girls.
In the late 1990s, the number of female offenders in the detention centers and correctional facilities was very low compared to those of males. However, by 2003, this figure had increased exponentially. Specifically, in 2010, according to Watson and Edelman (2012), there was a total of 337,450 girls and 816,646 boys arrested and charged in the United States. However, some years back in 2003, girls accounted for a mere 15% of juvenile offenders in detention centers around the US. This proportion of girls in the justice system has continued to grow as in 2006; more girls were committed to detention centers compared to those in 2003. Additionally, in 2010, while boys arrests had decreased by a whopping 26.5 percent, girls had only declined by 15.5 percent (Watson and Edelman, 2012). These results show the growing number of female offenders which calls for the changes in the criminal justice system to cater for the needs of the girls. Some of the ways in which the rights of the girls in the detention centers have been ignored are through failure to recognize their different needs from those of boys. Specifically, Leve, Chamberlain, and Kim (2015) opine that the fact that girls would require additional services because of their biological differences to males is a factor that most of the detention centers have failed to factor. Additionally, failure to separate boys from girls detention centers has resulted in cases of abuse.
Varieties of theories have been developed to explain the causes as well as the effects of juvenile girl offenders. Notably, a theory can be either a principle, idea, or concept put forward in the definition and explanation of a particular phenomenon. Some of the overarching ideas are the behavioral approaches. According to Cesare Beccaria, an Italian nobleman, juveniles are hedonistic and seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. In the pleasure-pain principle, the commission of crimes for the juveniles is a result of the need to ensure that they have a high level of pleasure coupled with a low degree of pain. The focus of this theory is thereby on the offense that a juvenile has committed as opposed to the offenders characteristics and the prevailing circumstances (Leve, Chamberlain, and Kim, 2015). Additionally, the proponents of this school of thought argue that the punishment offered to a particular crime but be fitting. As such, they claim that just desserts are critical in the determination of the penalty to be unleashed. In explaining the concept of juvenile delinquency, Beccarias assertion is that girls and boys would commit crimes with the idea of pain versus pleasure in mind.
The positive school of thought was one of those theoretical underpinnings that influenced the juvenile justice practices in the late 1800s. This theory is pegged on the belief that the behavior of the juveniles is beyond their individual control. As such, Siegel and Welsh (2014) posit that other factors aside from the free will of the juveniles influence their criminal behavior. The activities and behaviors of young offenders are, therefore, attributed to factors such as their upbringing as well as the strictness of their parents as well as the society (Watson and Edelman, 2012). Things such as sinful parents or failure of the parents to ensure that their girls and boys behave properly are some of the reasons attributed to criminal behavior. Additionally, the mental status is also to blame considering that an individual might not have control if he/she is mentally disabled. The reason for the emergence of the positive school of thought was the development of new scientific methods for the study of phenomena including criminal behaviors (Siegel and Welsh, 2014). Additionally, the classical approach, which had been in existence then, was proving ineffective considering its approach towards punishment. Some of the proponents of the positive school of thought include Cesare Lombroso, who opines that biological factors should be looked in the search for the causes of crime in both juveniles and adults. As such, according to Siegel and Welsh (2014), an emphasis was put into factors such as the family, school, and peer relationships of the juvenile offenders.
The choice theory was a result of the re-emergence of the classical school of thought in the 1970s. Specifically, the renewed and reinvigorated interest in the traditional school was based on the questioning of the premise of positivism as well as the increasing crime rates and the working of the rehabilitation as one of the ways in which the juvenile criminal offenders were being punished (Siegel and Welsh, 2014). Additionally, in the views of Felson and Cohen, the reason for the fluctuation of crime such as those of girls increasing over time could be the increased motivation for the offenders as well as the existence of a suitable target which in this case is the victim (Leve, Chamberlain, and Kim, 2015). Additionally, the absence of any capable guardians such as the parents, neighbors, police, and teachers can be a leading cause of the crime increase. A combination of these three factors could be used to explain the reasons for the rising number of juvenile girl offenders. The deterrence theory, which follows the choice theory, presupposes that the juveniles would commit crime out of their free choice. According to Siegel and Welsh (2014), this decision can be based on either their perceived risks or the benefits of such crimes. As such, if the advantages of the commission of a crime outweigh the risks, then girls will most likely commit a crime. These different theories have all served to explain the reasons for the increase in crimes and the various ways in which such crimes can be prevented before they occur.
From the discussion on the different theories underlying juvenile delinquency and the reasons for the increasing crime rates for the girls, it is critical to point out where the justice system has failed. In this regard, the criminal justice system has not changed with the changing number of female juvenile offenders. Specifically, according to Watson and Edelman (2012), most of the detention centers still exist in the context of early 2000s when the number of female juvenile offenders were very few compared to their male counterparts. The detention centers have not been separated as most of the institutions provide mixed rooms for detention without observing the risks to the girls (Leve, Chamberlain, and Kim, 2015). Some of the facilities have argued that it is critical that both girls and boys interact. However, incidences such as those of sexual violence and rape have been reported. Additionally, it becomes difficult for the girls considering their particular service needs compared to those of the boys. The services in the detention centers and correctional facilities are designed for the boys including the toilets as well as the rooms (Watson and Edelman, 2012). Moreover, the existing policies of the juvenile justice system have more focus on boys without consideration of the increasing number of female juvenile offenders. As such, a need arises for reforms, which will address the disparities in the justice system for male and female juvenile delinquents.
A variety of efforts should be made to improve the system of minors and realize equality in service provision between the male and female offenders. One area of directing those efforts should be on legislation. Specifically, according to Leve, Chamberlain, and Kim (2015), policies should be made that focus on the juvenile justice system as not that of boys but also that includes the girls. In the legislations, the detention centers should be mandated to provide gender-sensitive services such as toilets for the women as well as other necessities. Additionally, they should be allowed to have separate dentition centers for both boys and girls to avoid incidences of sexual violence, which have a long-term effect on the lives of the female offenders. The juvenile justice system leaders should re-examine their decisions as well as attitudes towards the girl offenders. In this case, Siegel and Welsh (2014) posit that they should create positive attitudes and not negative ones, which lead to low self-esteems for the female juvenile offenders. The condition of the detention facilities should, indeed, be changed to address the needs and vulnerabilities of the girls. Finally, intra-system collaborations are imperative to address gender disparities in the justice system.
In conclusion, the number of female juvenile offenders have continued to increase, however, the judicial system has not responded to this by ensuring that the detention centers are gender sensitive. The increase in the crime rates for girls has been explained through a variety of theories. One of those is the classical school of thought, which supposes that juvenile delinquents make free choices to commit a crime to maximize pleasure and reduce pain. Additionally, the positive school has stated that the behaviors of the juvenile offenders are based on factors beyond their individual control. Such factors include their families, peer relationships, and mental health. Moreover, the choice theory has supported the notion of free choice in crime commission. The increasing number of female juvenile offenders requires reforms in the justice system. Such improvements will include legislations mandating the narrowing of gender disparities in the detention centers as well as more focus on the needs of the girls as well as the conditions ion the detention facilities.
Leve, L. D., Chamberlain, P., & Kim, H. K. (2015). Risks, outcomes, and evidence-based interventions for girls in the US juvenile justice system. Clinical child and family psychology review, 18(3), 252-279.
Siegel, L. J., & Welsh, B. C. (2014). Juvenile delinquency: Theory, practice, and law. Cengage Learning.
Watson, L., & Edelman, P. (2012). Improving the juvenile justice system for girls: Lessons from the states. Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Pol'y, 20, 215.
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