As the orientation of the juvenile justice system moved toward a punitive nature in the 1980s, females increasingly become ensnared in the system. Girls now represent a greater share of juveniles processed in court, as they were less than 20 % of those brought into the juvenile system in the 1980s, but by 2010 they had grown to 28 % (Sickmund et al. 2015). While both boys and girls have experienced declines in juvenile court involvement from the 1990s to 2013, females only experienced a 36 % decrease in court involvement compared with the 47 % decrease experienced by males. In fact, males are now brought into court less than they were in the 1980s, whereas females have yet to reach those levels. While girls were increasingly punished during the 1990s and early 2000s, their offending patterns based upon self-reports actually suggested stability or a decline in offending (Goodkind et al. 2009). Perceptions of girls as violent and criminal were partially shaped by media portrayals of girls that showed them engaging in delinquent acts, drug selling, and gang activities, as well as crime statistics indicating that girls were offending more, both of which contributed to the punitive responses toward girls (Chesney-Lind & Pasko 2013). One additional alternative explanation for the rise in female offending is that following the deinstitutionalization of status offenders, some status offenses were merely “relabeled” as more serious offenses, in order to impose harsher punishments (Feld 2009).

The juvenile justice system has long struggled in developing adequate responses in treating delinquent girls entering the system, as they have many unique differences from boys (Bender 2010). For example, delinquent girls are more likely to be abuse victims, and they frequently engage in criminal activities

(e.g., prostitution, joining gangs) in order to escape from abusive and neglectful homes. Girls entering the system are more likely than boys to have mental illnesses and abuse drugs or alcohol. They also have high rates of risky sexual behaviors and pregnancy, with one study reporting that 37 % of detained girls were either currently or previously pregnant (Williams & Hollis 1999). Once they enter the juvenile justice system, there are several notable differences in the treatment and responses to girls and boys. Most notably, institutional programs for girls tend to be gender specific, as they were designed for boys and then applied to girls (Garcia & Lane 2013). As girls historically have represented a smaller portion of detained juveniles, they have been largely neglected in programming and treatment. As girls now represent a growing share of detained juveniles, states are increasingly devoting resources to programs that take into account the unique needs of girls (Wiltz 2015).

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