New Occasional Paper Written by YWEP: Bad Encounter Line

The Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women is thrilled to share with you the latest Occasional Paper, by C. Angel Torres and Naima Paz of the Young Women’s Empowerment Project! The paper looks at the organization’s Bad Encounter Line, which they describe like this:

The Bad Encounter Line (BEL) is a way to report bad experiences you have had with institutions such as police, the health care system, public aid, DCFS, CPS, etc. In our research we noticed so many girls and transgender girls reporting bad encounters from systems that are set in place to help them. So we wondered is the same happening to boys as well; so we expanded the BEL to reach them as well, and as we have been receiving data we have learned that these systems are affecting all genders. Based off the BEL, we started a task force for street based youth and wrote a Bill of Rights that we want non-profits to sign so they have to be accountable to us and can’t get away with denying us help.

The paper is available for downloading – along with the Bill of Rights that YWEP members developed – on the Taskforce website.

The Taskforce thanks the Young Women’s Empowerment Project for their powerful and important work, and for their willingness to share it with us through the Taskforce. Everyone is encouraged to read what the young people from YWEP have to say about this issue, why it matters, and how they are taking concrete steps to address it.

Stay tuned for the next two papers, to be released this fall, both featuring youth voices….. The first, by youth and adult allies at the CRIME Teens Project in Bronzeville, describes their approach to addressing bullying, cyberbullying and teen dating violence. The second, by youth leader Tiara Epps of Beyondmedia Education, will be in the form of a video diary, and will share her learnings from the Chain of Change project.

If you are interested in submitting an abstract for the Taskforce’s next round of Occasional Papers, please email


New Report by CDF Suggests that More Girls Entering Juvenile Justice System

From the newly-released 2011 State of America’s Children Report by the Children’s Defense Fund:

More Girls Enter the Juvenile Justice System

The caseload of girls in the juvenile justice system has greatly increased in the last 30 years. In 1980, girls made up 20 percent of all juvenile arrests.1 By 2009, girls made up 30 percent of all juvenile arrests. The rise in the number of girls in the system seems to be largely due to changes in arrest policies, rather than changes in behavior among girls. 2 Girls are disproportionately arrested for status offenses, or acts that are illegal only when a minor has committed them, such as curfew violations, under-age drinking, running away, and truancy. Most states are attempting to divert status offenders to counseling or other community-based services to prevent entry into the juvenile justice system. However, these alternatives are not available to all who need them, and there are many problems associated with incarcerating girls for status offenses.

Girls are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system for status offenses

• In 2007, the most recent national data on girls in residential placement showed that girls made up about 14 percent of all youth in placement. These data also showed that girls were disproportionately incarcerated for status offenses. Girls made up
 51 percent of juveniles in residential placement for running away;
 31 percent of truancy offenses;
 36 percent of underage drinking offenses; and
 40 percent of incorrigibility offenses.3
• Girls made up 55 percent of runaway arrests in 2009.4 Other characteristics about girls in the juvenile justice system
• Estimates of girls in the juvenile justice system who have been abused range from 40 to
73 percent.5
• Seventy-five percent of girls in the system report being regular users of alcohol and/or drugs.6
• Girls (9%) were more likely than boys (2%) to report forced sexual activity with other youth while in confinement.7
• American Indian and Black girls are four and three times more likely to be incarcerated than White girls, respectively.8

1 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Snyder, Howard N. and Sickmund, Melissa, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, at>.
2 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, OJJDP In Focus, Girls’ Delinquency.
3 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and National Center for Juvenile Justice, Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook, Race/Ethnicity by State, 2007.
4 U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States 2009, Table 33.
5 Chesney-Lind, M. & Sheldon, R.G. (1998). Girls, delinquency, and juvenile justice. Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
6 Acoca, L. (1999). Investing in girls: A 21st century strategy. Juvenile Justice, vol 6 (1). Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
7 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report, Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-2009.
8 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and National Center for Juvenile Justice, Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook, Race/Ethnicity by State, 2007.

“Bad” Girls: Demonizing Girls in Conflict with the Law

Cross-posted at Prison Culture

I read an article yesterday that crystallizes some of the conventional thinking about girls in conflict with the law. The Superintendent of Jersey schools was speaking with a group of pastors and had this to say:

“Young ladies” are the community’s “worst enemy,” Superintendent Charles T. Epps Jr. said today to a group of Jersey City pastors.

Discussing the $1 million that Jersey City public schools pay to staff police officers at its facilities, Epps blasted the district’s “young girls.”

“Our worst enemy is the young ladies,” Epps said. “The young girls are bad. I don’t know what they’re drinking today, but they’re bad.”

By Rachel Williams (Cradle to Prison Project)

Concern about girls’ aggression and violence has rarely been higher; largely because the general public feels that girls’ violence is increasing at a remarkable rate. The media has played a central role in this perception, not only in showcasing girls’ violence, but also by providing the public with explanations for this perplexing “new” phenomenon. Headlines have referenced hazing incidents, stories of vicious fights among girl gangs, and an overall explosion of the rates of arrests for aggressive acts.

The past 15 years have seen an explosion in the popular media of books about girls’ aggression and violence. In the 1990s, several popular trade books (Odd Girl Out and Queen Bees and Wannabees among them) announced the emergence of a new prototype of young woman – the “mean girl.” At the turn of the century, media accounts began to concentrate more specifically on the increase of young women’s use of violence. The “mean girl” image would soon be supplanted by the notion of the “violent girl.”

Researchers point to the fact that the image of the “mean girl” is just the latest incarnation of a time-honored stereotype that goes back to the 1960s. First there were the young women revolutionaries like Patty Hearst and Angela Davis, then there were the “gang girls” of the 1980’s, this moved to the “tough girls” of the 90’s, then morphed into the “mean” girl of the early 2000s, finally culminating in today’s “violent bad” girls.

Over the past years, researchers have struggled to catch up with the reality of these popular constructions of girls and young women. Their findings have presented a complicated picture about girls’ aggression and violence. On the one hand, they note an increase in the number of girls who have entered into the juvenile justice system. On the other, they disagree about what this means as to whether girls’ are indeed becoming more violent. In fact, several researchers suggest that a changing culture is more to blame for this rise in the number of girls referred to the criminal legal system than is an actual increase in girls’ use of violence (Chesney-Lind and Irwin, 2007).

In the introduction to their edited anthology “Girls’ Violence: Myths and Realities,” Christine Adler and Anne Worrall (2004) acknowledge that some statistics do suggest “an increase in violent offending by young women in particular (p.5).” While some of these statistics have been used by the media and popular authors to support the view that young women are indeed becoming more violent, Adler and Worrall (2004) caution that “such statistics are as much an indication of definitions of particular behaviors, and criminal or juvenile justice system responses to them and to particular individuals, as they are about the actions of young women (p.5).”

The notion of whether girls’ violence has really increased over time is contested (Adler and Worrall, 2004). Some researchers suggest that the rates of arrests and the reclassification of violent acts are the real culprits for the increased involvement of girls in the criminal legal system (Chesney-Lind, 2004). They contend that on average girls’ actual behavior has changed very little.

I will posit the following ideas:

1. The labeling of girls as increasingly violent is widespread whether or not it is based on actual fact.
2. We need to listen to girls’ voices and contextualize their use and experience of violence. Girls’ violence needs to be contextualized rather than sensationalized.
3. There is a blurred boundary between girls as perpetrators of violence and girls as victims, survivors or witnesses of violence.
4. We need a better understanding of how and why girls end up in conflict with the law and what their experiences are once they get into the system.

Superintendent Charles Epps actually presents us with a valuable opportunity to do some truth-telling and to smash some stereotypes. Rather than demonizing young women we need to seek opportunities to better understand their lived realities. We need refrain from stigmatizing and further oppressing young women.

Understanding & Responding to the Needs of At-Risk & Delinquent Girls

From OJJDP News:

In the 1990s, a surge of girls’ arrests brought female juvenile delinquency to the country’s attention. By 2004, girls accounted for 30 percent of all juvenile arrests for violent offenses. The juvenile justice field struggled to understand why girls were becoming more involved in delinquency, how to prevent their delinquent behavior, and how best to respond to the needs of girls who were entering the system. Of particular interest was the question of whether girls were becoming more violent or if other factors contributed to their higher arrest rates.

OJJDP has long supported research on understanding girls’ delinquency, particularly through its Girls Study Group, an OJJDP research project to investigate the roots of and solutions to girls’ delinquency. The Office also provides publications, training and technical assistance, gender-specific programming, assessment tools, and other resources that address delinquency among girls.


Girls Study Group logo

In 2004, OJJDP convened the Girls Study Group, a team of multidisciplinary experts with theoretical and practical expertise related to female development, delinquency, and the juvenile justice system. The Study Group’s initial findings suggest that girls are not more violent than before and confirm that girls engage in far less crime and delinquency than boys for nearly every offense. It was also observed that mandatory arrest policies and other changes in the juvenile justice system are associated with the higher arrest rates for girls.

Although a number of delinquency risk factors—such as family conflict, low academic achievement, disengagement from school, and a lack of community-based programs—affect both boys and girls, others are specifically associated with girls. These risk factors include early onset of puberty, a history of sexual abuse, depression, and anxiety. For example, studies of girls who are chronic runaways document significant levels of sexual and physical victimization, which in turn makes them vulnerable to subsequent victimization and engaging in behaviors that violate the law such as prostitution, survival sex, and drug use.

Researchers also found that a number of protective factors can prevent girls from becoming juvenile offenders. These protective factors include the involvement of a caring adult, school connectedness, academic success, and religiosity. This new understanding of female adolescent development points to solutions for helping girls avoid engaging in delinquent or risky behaviors.

OJJDP is publishing these and other findings of the Girls Study Group in a series of bulletins, which are available online via OJJDP’s publications page.

As programs addressing girls’ delinquency have proliferated at the state and local levels, it is important to have scientific information about program effectiveness. OJJDP is committed to scientific and comprehensive evaluations that determine what works in preventing and addressing girls’ delinquency. In 2010, OJJDP funded three evaluations of promising programs for girls:

  • Young Women Leaders Program, a mentoring program for preventing delinquency in at-risk girls (University of Virginia).
  • VOICES curriculum, a multidimensional group intervention addressing trauma in adolescent girls (University of Connecticut).
  • Girls’ Circle, a structured support group for girls ages 9–18 that integrates relational theory, resiliency practices, and skills training to increase positive relationships, personal and collective strengths, and competence in girls (Development Services Group). Girls’ Circle is cited in OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide.

Training and Technical Assistance

OJJDP’s National Girls Institute, launched in 2010, will provide training and technical assistance to prevention, intervention, treatment, and aftercare programs for at-risk and delinquent girls across the nation. In addition to training and technical assistance, the institute will disseminate information; collaborate with researchers and program developers; form partnerships with federal, state, tribal, and local agencies; and develop policy. OJJDP’s 3-year, $1.5-million grant was made to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency’s Center for Girls and Young Women in Jacksonville, FL. Plans for the initial year include the creation of an advisory group composed of nationally recognized experts, including tribal experts; a nationwide assessment of the current training, technical assistance, and information needs of state, tribal, and local entities serving at-risk and delinquent girls; and the development of national standards of practice for those who work with girls in custody. A National Girls Institute Web site also is planned.

In October 2010, an updated OJJDP curriculum that trains law enforcement officers on the best ways to approach and interact with adolescent girls was unveiled at the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in Orlando, FL. The course, developed over a period of several years through focus groups involving law enforcement professionals and experts in a wide range of disciplines, uses lectures, interactive discussions, and exercises to increase positive interactions with and decrease the arrest or incarceration of adolescent girls who may be at risk of or involved in delinquent behavior. For more information on this course, contact Ms. Stevyn Fogg at IACP.

OJJDP’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center offers a training course, Gender-Responsive Programming for Girls, to address the needs of girls. It focuses on the unique experiences of young women as they relate to race, culture, development, economic status, and physical appearance; it may be used to enhance services in a range of settings, from community-based prevention programs for at-risk girls to intensive residential programs and detention.

Gender-Specific Programming

Following are examples of OJJDP-supported programs that focus on helping girls to avoid delinquency and to build a productive, successful future:

Alternatives for Girls helps homeless and high-risk girls and young women avoid violence, teen pregnancy and exploitation, and helps them to explore and access the support, resources and opportunities necessary to be safe, to grow strong and to make positive choices in their lives.

Girls and Gangs provides support and advocacy for girls and young women involved with the juvenile justice system through reentry services with an emphasis on skill-building workshops, individualized case management, health education, collaboration with public and private agencies, and public education.

Girls Inc. develops research-based informal education programs that encourage girls to take risks and master physical, intellectual and emotional challenges. Major programs address math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse prevention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health, violence prevention, and sports participation. In 2009, Girls Inc. reached over 900,000 girls through Girls Inc. affiliates, its Web site, and educational publications.

PACE Center for Girls provides delinquency-prevention programs to teenage girls. The goals of Practical Academic Cultural Education (PACE) are to deter school withdrawal, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency.

In addition, OJJDP’s Formula Grants program provides funds directly to states and territories to help them implement comprehensive juvenile justice plans for preventing and intervening in girls’ delinquency. The plans are based on detailed studies of the needs in their jurisdictions. Juvenile Justice Specialists in each state administer the funding through subgrants to units of local government, local private agencies, and American Indian/Alaska Native tribes to support programs in accordance with legislative requirements.

Assessment Tools

To guide decisions within the juvenile justice system, judges, case managers, probation staff, and related professionals often rely on standardized instruments to assess the risks and needs of youth. Some have questioned whether the instruments in use are appropriate for girls. However systematic research on the validity of the instruments is lacking. OJJDP’s Girls Study Group has reviewed hundreds of assessment instruments, and information about each instrument may be accessed by searching the Study Group’s online database. Information also is available in the Study Group’s bulletin, Suitability of Assessment Instruments for Delinquent Girls.

Other OJJDP Resources

In 2005, the Girls Study Group compiled a searchable Girls’ Delinquency Bibliographic Database on girls’ delinquency. The database cites references related to trends, causes, and correlates of girls’ delinquency that have been collected and used during the literature review phase of the Study Group’s research project.

OJJDP’s Delinquency Web page and In Focus fact sheet, Girls Delinquency offer an overview of female delinquency and highlight OJJDP’s research, programs, training and technical assistance, and publications that address this issue.

Future Directions

OJJDP recently formed an internal Girls Working Group to raise awareness of and enhance the coordination of initiatives on behalf of at-risk and delinquent girls across OJJDP, the Office of Justice Programs, and other components of the U.S. Department of Justice. The group aims to strengthen policy and practice within OJJDP and in states and localities to increase focus on the needs of girls and also the disproportionate response to girls of color at all decision points in the juvenile justice system.

Findings from the Girls Shape the Future Study

The Girls Shape the Future study, conducted by Girls Inc., in collaboration with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR), from 2001 to 2006, surveyed more than 800 adolescent girls over a three-year period from approximately sixth through ninth grades. The data presented in the study focus on sexual behavior and attitudes and challenge common perceptions about girls whose futures are considered at risk because of factors over which they have no control, such as their race, their family configuration, or their family’s economic status. The report also sheds important new light on risk and protective factors for girls’ early sexual activity.
To download a summary or the full report, click here.

Health and Medicine Policy Research Group: Recommendations for the JTDC

In 2008, the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group published a very helpful report to support young women’s needs at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.  They offered a set of recommendations, many of which have been adopted in the intervening years.

This is a good read and provides some historical information about young women at the JTDC and their needs.  You can download the report below.

GenderMattersCCJTDCpolicyrecommendationsApril 2008

Useful Resources about Girls in Trouble With the Law

Suggested Reading


Beyond Bad Girls: Gender, Violence, & Hype by Meda Chesney-Lind and Katherine Irwin

Girls in Trouble with the Law by Laurie Schaffner


Determining What Works for girls in the Juvenile Justice System: A Summary of Evaluation Evidence by Zahn, Day, Mihalic & Tichavsky (2009)

Engendering the Agenda: Girls, Young Women & Youth Justice by Sharpe & Geldthorpe (2009)

Girls in Detention: The Results of Focus Group Discussions, Interviews, & Official Records Review by Kakar, Friedmann, & Peck (2002)

Juveniles in Detention: How Do Girls Differ From Boys by Alemagno, Shaffer-King, & Hammel (2006)

Racial & Ethnic Disparities in Girls’ Sentencing in the Juvenile Justice System by Lori D. Moore and Irene Padavic (2010)

Urban African American Girls at Risk: An Exploratory Study of Service Needs & Provision by Brubaker & Fox (2010)


Crime and Incarceration among Girls and Young Women in Illinois and Chicago by Mariame Kaba

Examining at-risk and delinquent girls in Illinois by Lindsay Bostwick and Jessica Ashley

The Status of Girls in Illinois by Mariame Kaba, Melissa Spatz, and Michelle VanNatta

Other helpful resources and links

The Girls Study Group

The Girl Prison Pipeline: A Fact Sheet by the Rebecca Project

Impact: A Multidisciplinary Journal Addressing Issues of Urban Youth, Volume 2 Number 2, Fall 2008

Incarcerated Women Talk About What Girls in the System Need

Sexual Violence, Girls and the Juvenile Justice System: A Fact Sheet by the Rebecca Project