UCLA Law Review: Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

The UCLA Law Review has published two notable articles on the topic of girls in the juvenile justice system as part of their 2012 symposium, Underprotected & Overpoliced: Women, Race & Criminalization.

Both articles are available for free download from the Law Review’s website.

The first, Blind Discretion: Girls of Color and Delinquency in the Juvenile Justice System, is by Jyoti Nanda, Lecturer in Law, Core Faculty in both the Critical Race Studies Program and the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy at UCLA School of Law.

Here is the abstract:

The juvenile justice system was designed to empower its decisionmakers with a wide grant of discretion in hopes of better addressing youth in a more individualistic and holistic, and therefore more effective, manner. Unfortunately for girls of color in the system, this discretionary charter given to police, probation officers, and especially judges has operated without sufficiently acknowledging and addressing their unique position. Indeed, the dearth of adequate gender/race intersectional analysis in the research and the stark absence of significant system tools directed at the specific characteristics of and circumstances faced by girls of color have tracked alarming trends such as the rising number of girls in the system and the relatively harsher punishment they receive compared to boys for similar offenses. This willful blindness must stop. This Article discusses the history and modern status of the juvenile justice system as it relates to girls of color, showing how it does not, in fact, relate to girls of color. There is hope, however. This Article concludes with policy recommendations, focusing on practical solutions and tools that will help decisionmakers exercise their considerable discretion to serve, rather than disserve, girls of color. The message to system actors is simple: Open your eyes! We owe that to our girls.

The full article may be downloaded here.

The second, Justice for Girls: Are We Making Progress, is by Francine T. Sherman, Visiting Clinical Professor and Director, Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project, Boston College Law School.

Here is the abstract:

Over the course of more than a century, structural gender bias has been a remarkably durable feature of U.S. juvenile justice systems. Consequently, as these systems have developed over the years, reducing gender bias and addressing girls in helpful, rather than harmful, ways has required specific and concerted efforts on the part of federal and state governments. Currently, there are a number of positive trends in juvenile justice, including policy and practice that is increasingly developmentally centered and data driven. The question for those focused on girls in the juvenile justice system is how to ensure that girls are the beneficiaries of these positive trends.

This Article discusses the history of federal leadership on girls’ issues and then considers the impact on girls of current trends toward developmentally centered and data-driven juvenile justice. It considers the application of developmentally centered policy in relation to girls who experience family violence and those who are commercially sexually exploited. The Article then examines the movement toward data-driven decisionmaking for its potential to reduce embedded gender bias and particularly bias at the intersection of race and gender. It examines the impact on girls of the increasing use of assessment instruments and the consequences of greater reliance on evidence-based practice as further illustrations of the new data-driven approaches. Throughout, the Article discusses the implications of these trends for girls and suggests ways that systems can ensure that girls’ issues are considered and addressed.

The full article is available here.

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About Tamar Birckhead

School of Law
This entry was posted in Analysis, Conferences, Gender, Juvenile Court, Juveniles, Legal Scholarship. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to UCLA Law Review: Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

  1. I am interested in reading more about the second article. The concept of data-driven decision making sounds promising.

  2. Tamar Birckhead says:

    Maggie Lee at Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has written a nice piece on the authors of these two articles: http://jjie.org/girls-poorly-served-by-juvenile-justice-system-say-authors/93494

  3. As a practitioner in the field of juvenile law, it has become clear that there is a notable lack of high level placements for young women in crisis. Furthermore, there is a crisis with young women of color and referring to a “dearth of adequate gender/race intersectional analysis” is probably being charitable.

    Due to budget constraints, the current placement climate is poor for both young men and women, but it has always been difficult to find placements for young women found to have committed serious crimes. In Sacramento, for example, up until recently there was a Boy’s Ranch for more serious male offenders. There was no comparable female facility, and as far as I’m aware there is none in the state.

    There are several higher level placement options for boys across the nation, and few comparable facilities for young women. All to often juvenile court judges are left with committing young women to lengthy juvenile hall stays, which is essentially “warehousing” them, or putting young women in group homes that often offer little in the way of meaningful help.

    Any time I see “developmentally centered” policy I am gratified: this is the way to approach many of these cases in my opinion, and not to treat these girls as “junior criminals on their way to the state penitentiary.”

    • tbirckhe says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mark. Your experiences match mine exactly in North Carolina. I, too, have regularly had female clients held in detention merely because there was not another “suitable” placement option. It’s been extremely frustrating….

  4. tbirckhe says:

    And there is also this: http://jjie.org/about-girls/92178