In 1992, Congress issued a long overdue challenge to the country in the reauthorization of the JJDP Act, urging every State and local jurisdiction to examine gender bias and gender-specific programming for young women at risk or involved in the juvenile justice system. State and local response to this issue has been significant and wide ranging with at least 23 States committing time and resources over the past five years.
Supported by training, technical assistance, and formula grants funds from OJJDP, States have planned and implemented a wide array of initiatives involving data analysis, needs assessment, and intervention programs that have brought awareness to the importance of developing gender-specific services for at-risk adolescent girls and those currently in the system.
Lessons learned from the 23 early State and local initiatives provide important indicators for addressing the treatment needs of these young women. Establishing representative planning groups that ensure the involvement of key community and State leaders is the first step to producing the much-needed awareness of the needs of juvenile female offenders. Moreover, including juvenile justice practitioners and girl-serving organizations in the representative planning process ensures the development of effective and realistic choices for a full continuum of services. Assessing existing services in the juvenile justice system and understanding how the system processes females differently from males constitutes the next step in effectively managing this population. Once existing services have been assessed, bridging gaps in services to delinquent and at-risk girls should follow. Finally, implementing program and facility staff training in the physical and emotional development of adolescent girls is critical to affording the necessary support to the prosocial restoration of juvenile female offenders.
Although States have put forth a deliberate effort, the goal established by Congress to develop and adopt policies to prohibit gender bias and ensure that female youth have access to a full range of services remains a challenge. Policymakers, service providers, and juvenile justice professionals have begun to realize the need for change in providing services to girls. What is required now is the commitment to evaluating services that work and implementing the necessary policies to warrant provision of effective programs for this too often ignored population.