Important Progress for Girls

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Fewer arrests, residential commitments, and transfers to adult court

iStock_000009667104_LargeJust five years ago, the First Coast region was a very tough place to be a girl. The Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, incarcerated more girls than any other Florida circuit ̶ more than Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale combined. Last year, the circuit dropped to third in the state for committing girls to juvenile justice residential facilities, and other positive changes are occurring, according to a recently released See the Change three-year trend analysis report by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Since 2011-2012, the incarceration of First Coast girls have been nearly cut in half, and a reduction in Duval County specifically by two-thirds, trending downward at double the reduction seen statewide. According to Vanessa Patino Lydia, the Policy Center’s vice president of research and planning, this trend on the First Coast is not only exceeding state trends, but national trends, too.

The report also notes areas where additional improvement is needed. Arrests of First Coast girls fell just 23 percent compared to 30 percent statewide. Girls also continue to be arrested for non-felony offenses at higher rates than boys. In 2014-2015, three out of four First Coast girls (75 percent) were arrested for non-felony offenses compared to one out of two boys (51 percent).

System Still More Punitive with Girls

Girls are more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system for different types of offenses than boys. In 2014-2015, First Coast girls were most often arrested for misdemeanor assault or battery or misdemeanor petit theft, accounting for 57 percent of all arrests. These misdemeanor offenses have been the top two reasons for First Coast girls’ referrals to the judicial system for the past five years.

And girls are more likely to be incarcerated for less serious offenses. Most strikingly, the analyses showed that 1 in 3 girls (36 percent) on the First Coast were incarcerated for a non-law violation of probation (compared to less than 1 in 10 boys (8 percent).

Black girls continue to be over-represented at all points along the juvenile justice system continuum on the First Coast. Although Black girls accounted for 28 percent of the general population of girls ages 10-18 on the First Coast, they represented 49 percent of total girls arrested in 2014-2015, 61 percent of girls on probation and 39 percent of girls committed.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction, but much more needs to be done,” noted Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, president and CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. “Significant needs remain unaddressed not just on the First Coast, but also statewide.” 

Girls at Risk in the CommunityiStock_000017765496_Large

High school students in Duval County (19 percent) reported experiencing higher incidences of bullying than in 2009 (16 percent), according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Females are more likely to experience bullying electronically and on school property. Females reported higher rates of physical dating violence and more incidences of physically forced sexual intercourse than boys. Reports of physical dating violence and physically forced sexual intercourse were higher among Hispanic females than Black and White females.

High school girls in Duval County were also more likely to feel sad or hopeless than males (35 percent vs. 22 percent) and seriously considered attempting suicide (21 percent) or made a plan about how they would attempt suicide (17 percent). All three of these behaviors were higher among Hispanic and White females than Black females. Although sexual activity among high school youth in Duval County has declined 21 percent since 2009, teens in Duval County are having sex at younger ages and having sex with more partners than teens throughout Florida and nationally.

Needs Increase with Deeper System Involvement

The report also found that as girls go deeper into the juvenile justice system, they reported higher rates of treatment needs. Seventy-one of every 100 girls sent to residential commitment programs had a diagnosed mental health problem, compared to 25 of every 100 girls on probation. Half the girls in residential commitment had a history of sexual abuse, compared to 15 percent of the girls on probation.

A very large majority (93 percent) of First Coast girls in juvenile justice residential commitment facilities had a drug problem, compared to half (52 percent) of girls on probation. Nearly all girls who were committed witnessed violence (93 percent), suggesting a look at what is happening in our communities, how girls are experiencing it and the interventions that are available on the front end of the system. Girls on the First Coast continue to report higher rates of sexual and physical abuse than the statewide average.

“Although residential commitments have trended downward, what we’re seeing is that the girls we’re still sending away, and especially First Coast girls, have incredibly high needs on virtually every risk factor,” Lydia said.

No Girl Should Be Left Behind

iStock_000012269920_LargeTrend data shows there is a need for services that aren’t being met locally. The report calls for more community-based interventions that address both the needs of girls, as well as that of their families. More investment in quality mental health services that follow the child, rather than following prescriptive funding formulas that may be unrealistic, is also considered critical for continued progress.

“As a community, we have a responsibility to have services in place that truly address the needs of these vulnerable children,” stated Ravoira. “We must also focus on the girls that we’re still leaving behind, expanding both prevention and treatment for these girls.”

Just as significant, according to Ravoira, the report shows the Policy Center’s Continuity of Care Model is working in the First Coast region and continued investment in the model is needed. This past legislative session, the Continuity of Care Model received its first legislative earmark, sponsored by Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Charles McBurney who worked closely with the Policy Center and The Children’s Campaign on the issue.

The Policy Center’s Girl Matters®: Continuity of Care Model was piloted from 2013-2015 in response to the incarceration trends in Northeast Florida and the emerging self-reported assessment data showing a high proportion of unmet needs for girls. The model’s services span the entire juvenile justice spectrum from prevention and early intervention through residential programming and transition/re-entry services and ongoing care management. The overarching goals are to reduce factors leading to deeper juvenile justice system involvement and to increase access to girl-centered therapeutic services, which allow girls to remain connected to their community.


This Top Story is brought to you by Karen Bonsignori, Roy Miller and Tiffany McGlinchey

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Important Progress for Girls