Recommendations for Future Action

The following recommendations represent lessons learned by those States that have begun developing and implementing appropriate services for juvenile female offenders and at-risk young women. These recommendations are offered as suggestions to other organizations or States that may begin such efforts in the future.

Establish a Representative Planning Group

In almost all States and local communities where advocacy efforts have begun, these efforts have come out of a State or community task force created to address the unique needs of girls and young women at risk of involvement or involved in the juvenile justice system. Since young women are a relatively small service delivery population, they often go unnoticed or unconsidered when juvenile justice policy and programming decisions are made, particularly on a statewide level. The creation of a group of individuals dedicated to bringing their needs into the discussion on a regular basis is the first step in creating awareness.

When creating such a planning group, the following individual steps are recommended:

  1. Identify Key Community and State Leaders. A committee or task force for young women needs to involve those within the State or local system who can make strategic policy and programming decisions. Sometimes the changes that need to be made to meet the needs of young women have implications for the larger juvenile justice system. Therefore, they will require the input and "buy in" of these key leaders in the State or local system. By involving these individuals at the beginning of the planning process, the task force is able to build the institutional support necessary for later system changes.

  2. Involve Juvenile Justice Practitioners. Since the real changes in program services have to take place in the relationship between young women and service delivery professionals, it is critical that the voices of line staff and program personnel be heard on the task force or planning committee. Having these individuals involved will offer policymakers and State system administrators a realistic perspective on the implications of changes in day-to-day juvenile justice programming. Further, the involvement of program practitioners allows for the immediate implementation of gender-specific philosophical principles through ongoing modifications in service delivery throughout the planning process.

  3. Involve Historically Significant Girl-Serving Organizations. Most communities have active chapters of long-standing and respected girl-serving organizations, such as Girls, Inc., Girl Scouts, or the YWCA. In recent years, these programs have developed new approaches to working with young women at risk of involvement or involved in the juvenile justice system. Including these organizations on the task force or planning committee will allow the group to access their existing resources on gender-specific services and learn from their vast experience working directly with young women. Further, these representatives are often already accepted as key community advocates and can assist the task force in networking with other advocacy efforts in local communities.

Assess System Processing and Existing Services

Many States are not able to separate basic data on juvenile offenders, such as arrests, placements, and offenses committed by gender. Further, most States do not have a clear picture of the services that currently exist within the State juvenile justice system to which the juvenile female offender has access. Therefore, one of the first steps to adequately address the needs of this population is to identify how the system processes females compared with their male counterparts and where service delivery gaps exist.

When considering the process for assessing the juvenile justice system as it relates to juvenile female offenders, the following specific recommendations are made:

  1. Clearly Define Gender-Specific Services. It is critical that those doing the analysis of current services understand the difference between gender-specific programs and those which simply serve young women. To conduct a thorough examination of what services exist for young women in the juvenile justice system, it is not enough simply to identify the programs that will take young women into their treatment environment because many of these programs may not possess specific knowledge concerning the developmental differences between girls and boys. Therefore, a critical aspect of identifying available services is to separate those programs offering appropriate services to this population from those that would offer such services if they were able to access technical assistance in the area of program development.

  2. Use Data from Local Jurisdictions to Supplement State or Federal Statistics. When assessing the system to understand how young women are processed, it is critical that those assessing take advantage of local or jurisdictional data when possible. Assessments created using only national or statewide data may result in information that is not useful to rural jurisdictions or individual local jurisdictions planning for female offenders.

  3. Use Actual Numbers to Supplement Percentages. Because the number of young women involved in the juvenile justice system is small, particularly in categories such as violent offenses, it is critical that assessments contain both actual numbers and percentages. It is not uncommon that the percentage of young women involved in violent crime may increase by 100 percent or 200 percent in a given year. However, this may actually mean an increase of only one to ten young women in a given jurisdiction. Therefore, unless both the number and percentage are given, the information is deceiving and may lead to inappropriate program development.

  4. Consider the Unique Situations of Rural Jurisdictions. Typically, the numbers of young women involved in the justice system in most rural areas of a State are extremely low. This often results in a lack of gender-specific services for these young women or, at best, services that are difficult to maintain because there is not a consistent service delivery population. When completing a statewide assessment and making specific recommendations, it is necessary to consider the unique situations of rural jurisdictions and to assist them in finding programming alternatives that work for them.

  5. Examine System Perceptions and Hard Data. As several State studies have demonstrated, it is useful for those assessing the juvenile justice system to obtain data on the perceptions of system professionals and the young women, and to focus on hard data such as offense and placement statistics. The addition of surveys or focus groups that allow the voices of practitioners and young women to be heard will often identify issues that will not be identified through statistics only. Further, these opinions often demonstrate clearly where additional training is necessary.

  6. Make Recommendations that Promote a Continuum of Care. While recommendations that promote a specific type of program development are always useful, service providers should attempt, when possible, to frame recommendations in such a way that they promote an entire continuum of care for young women.

Create Specific Programmatic Responses to Service Delivery Gaps

  1. Stress Programmatic Coordination. While occasionally it is necessary to create entirely new programs to meet the needs of young women, in many instances these needs can be met by the reorganization or restructuring of existing program models. For instance, in rural jurisdictions, it is often coordination of existing services that is most necessary to meet service delivery needs. Further, traditional, girl-serving organizations, such as the Girl Scouts or Girls, Inc., are often willing to work with probation services or other community-based efforts to fill in program gaps.

  2. Clearly Define Gender-Specific Services. When developing or modifying programs to serve the needs of female offenders or at-risk young women, emphasis must be placed on making sure these efforts are gender-specific in nature. This often means staff training and technical assistance are necessary to make sure that program components are based on female development.

  3. Focus on Prevention and Intervention Efforts. In most States, statistics show that young women represent half or more of the status offenders involved in the juvenile justice system. However, they often represent only one third to one fourth of the delinquent population. Therefore, if assessment data bears this out, program development should be focused on front-end, community-based services rather than intensive, residential, or secure models.

  4. Look to Existing Models. While there is a lack of specific programming designed for young women at many levels of the juvenile justice system, program models do exist that can be adapted to various populations of young women. Therefore, when development of a new program is necessary, planners should always look to existing models first. For suggestions of program models or resource organizations, see Appendix A.

Encourage System-Wide Training in Female Development

In most cases, it is necessary for State or local jurisdictions to begin their efforts to meet the needs of young women by developing and implementing system-wide training for juvenile justice practitioners and system administrators. This training should focus on gender development issues and the ways in which these issues affect programming and policy development in the juvenile justice system.

Juvenile Female Offenders: A Status of the States Report October 1998