Services for Justice-Involved Girls: A One Size Fits All Approach is not the Answer

The Justice for Girls Movement in Florida, which has been led for more than 20 years by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and American Children’s Campaign, has resulted in fundamental and historical reforms for girls and young women.

    • One in 10 girls report having been raped, although there are differences by race/ethnicity: 20% of Native Hawaiian, 17% of American Indian/Native American, 9% of White, 9% of Hispanic, 8% of African American and 3% of Asian girls report forced sexual intercourse experiences.
    • Regardless of whether they were in middle or high school, 13% of girls do not feel safe overall. And one in three do not feel safe in school.
    • Two in three girls in high school reported being verbally bullied (63%); nearly one in three have experienced physical bullying (30%); and one in three have experienced cyber bullying (35%).
    • One in four girls in middle school (compared to 11% of boys) and one in five girls in high school (compared to 10% of boys) has seriously contemplated attempting suicide. This rises to one in three girls who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or unsure of her sexual orientation.
    • More than one in three girls experience depression (38%) compared to 18% of their male peers.

Traumas like these increase girls’ likelihood to engage in risky or harmful behavior including self-harm, substance abuse and other behaviors that can lead them to involvement with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems.

Disparate Treatment Between Girls and Boys, and Girls of Color

In Florida, Black female students are disciplined at three times the rate of White female students (18% vs.6%). Public schools often impose harsher punishments against Black female students beginning in preschool, where they make up 20% of the population, but 54% of female preschoolers who receive one or more out of school suspensions. The school to prison pipeline puts girls of color on the path to intersect with the juvenile justice system. But, girls follow many pathways into the system. They are more likely than their male counterparts to enter the system for a lesser infraction or crime, or to be more harshly punished for even a minor probation violation. Girls in the juvenile justice system are more likely than boys to have been sexually and/or physically abused, have a history of running away and have a mental health issue.

Girls of color are particularly vulnerable to having charges brought against them, as they are 20% more likely to be formally petitioned, nearly three times as likely to be referred to juvenile court, and 20% more likely to be placed in a detention center. Black girls receive harsher sentences than White girls and White girls are more often granted leniency. Girls of color account for 60.6% of the population in Florida’s juvenile justice system. Girls of color who have a history of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and mental health issues, are less likely than their White peers to enter a diversion program. While the overall number of incarcerated youth is generally falling, the rate of arrest and imprisonment for girls is declining at a significantly slower rate.

Justice Practices Keep Girls Locked in the Cycle of Poverty and Additional Justice Involvement

Once a girl is involved with the juvenile justice system, it is hard to leave. In 2017-2018, more than 3,000 girls were arrested for technical violations which includes: non-law violation of probation, contempt of court and non-criminal infractions. When girls and young women do get out of lock up or complete their probation sanctions, the deck is still stacked against them. Court fees create a de facto debtor’s prison, pushing girls deeper into the system and families deeper into debt. Girls who cannot afford to pay court fees face incarceration, revocation of probation, driver’s license suspension and the inability to expunge/seal records. They can struggle to advance their education, get a job or pursue a profession and/or secure safe and affordable housing.

Family altercations can result in girls being charged with domestic violence – often for defensive behavior. Many times the girls being charged are victims of abuse within the family but in order to remove her from the situation law enforcement charges her with domestic violence. This domestic violence charge can be hard to overcome and result in entering and staying in the juvenile justice system.

Service gaps and failures can lead girls to becoming chronically involved with the criminal justice system and needing to rely on public assistance for longer periods. In order to break this cycle, girls need access to high quality girl-centered therapeutic services.

“One Size Fits All” Approach Doesn’t Work for Girls

Services designed around developmental or rehabilitative issues facing boys miss the mark for girls. The failure to provide services specifically designed for girls can cause a spike in recidivism.

Recent research shows that there is a high proportion of unmet needs for all justice-involved girls before, during and after the time that they are in contact with the juvenile justice system. Girls who are developmentally challenged are especially underserved due to a lack of understanding and awareness coupled with a severe shortage of appropriate programs and supports.


    • Oppose locking up dependent child victims of abuse, neglect, trafficking and other traumas. These children have often been underserved by the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems due to lack of needed services and resources. Removing their freedom continues to victimize children who have already suffered.
    • Allocate recurring funding for Girls Matter: Continuity of Care Model: This model improves access to therapeutic services and advocacy within a continuity of care for high risk girls already facing criminal justice involvement.
    • End the disparate treatment of girls and young women in Florida’s juvenile justice system: While the overall number of incarcerated youth is falling, the rate of arrest and imprisonment for girls is declining at a significantly slower rate. Girls are more likely to be locked up for minor offenses or technical violations. Girls of color are particularly vulnerable to having charges brought against them. Pathways into professions are also blocked more frequently for girls with juvenile records than are boys. This leads to repeating the cycle of poverty.
    • Clarify who is eligible to expunge their juvenile records, and eliminate the unintended consequence of youthful misdeeds following children into adulthood: Past legislative changes improved the expungement of juvenile records but confusion continues to exist in the process and many offenses remain unchanged. This results in fewer children being able to access early record expungement – making it harder to enter college, find housing, and get a job.
    • Reduce the use of technical violations of probation. Ensure that technical violation of probation and/or lack of ability to pay court fees does not result in committing justice-involved youth to residential facilities.
    • Create a juvenile justice pathway alternative to address family conflict: Keep girls from carrying a domestic violence charge for instances of family conflict and create a pathway alternative that addresses and provides a safe space away from the abuse experienced by girls rather than criminalizing their defensive behavior during a domestic altercation.

    • Invest in programs that are gender specific and address developmental disabilities: Gender specific programming, therapeutic service and aftercare for girls post-contact with the juvenile justice system will improve long-term outcomes.

    • Develop a Florida-based research capacity to introduce and spotlight issues, monitor progress and provide support of improved policy and practice.


The Justice for Girls Movement

The Justice for Girls Movement in Florida, which has been led for more than 20 years by American Children’s Campaign and the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, has resulted in fundamental and historical reforms for girls and young women. Despite documented successes in reversing negative trends, policies and practices, justice-involved girls still face pervasive inequality, service failures and multiple barriers that derail their futures.

American Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights

    • To be posted as priority bills are filed.

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