Recent Profile of the Adolescent Female Offender

The juvenile female offender of the 1990s continues to be similar in demographic characteristics to the offender of the 1980s. She is still likely to have been sexually or physically abused, to come from a single-parent home, and to lack appropriate social and work-related skills. However, in recent years, she is more likely to be under age 15 and more likely a woman of color (Bergsmann 1994, p. 5).

According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice 1987-91 data, there has been a 10 percent increase in the number of 13- and 14-year-olds involved in the juvenile court (Bergsmann 1994, p. 7). In data obtained from 29 States by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, African-American young women comprise almost 50 percent of all young women in secure detention, while Hispanics make up 13 percent (Bergsmann 1994, p. 8).

In recent years, more attention has been paid to the juvenile female offender and thus more information is available on her offending and behavioral patterns. It remains true that, for the most part, the juvenile court and social service system see most young women for status offenses. Even when young women are involved in delinquent behaviors, they still tend to be arrested for the more "female" offenses: prostitution, embezzlement, forgery, and counterfeiting (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 2).

However, some patterns of delinquent offending by young women have changed since the 1980s. While young women are still less likely than young men to become involved in delinquency, violent delinquency in particular, in recent years the involvement of young female offenders with the juvenile court for delinquent offenses has increased. This increase has important implications on many State service delivery systems, which often underestimate the numbers and therefore are ill-prepared to deal effectively with female delinquents. The following statistics give a profile of important new developments in the offending patterns of the juvenile female offender. While some of the percentage increases remain small, especially considering the low number of female offenders in the first place, they are still an important consideration if they represent trends that will continue.

  • Between 1989 and 1993, the number of arrests involving female juveniles increased by 23 percent compared with an 11 percent increase in the arrests of male juveniles (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 1).

  • In 1996, females represented 25 percent of all arrests of juveniles (those under 18 years of age) in the United States (723,000 out of 2,851,700). This is an increase of 4 percent from 21 percent in 1983 (Snyder 1997, p. 2). However, this number has been rising since 1960, when females represented only 11 percent of all arrests. They represented 15 percent in 1975 and 19 percent in 1990 (Steffensmeier 1993, p. 415).

  • In 1996, females represented 15 percent (20,265) of juvenile arrests for violent crimes (Snyder 1997, pg. 2).

  • In 1996, females represented 7 percent of arrests (203 out of 2,900) for murder/nonnegligent manslaughter and 20 percent (15,320 out of 76,600) for aggravated assault (Snyder 1997, p. 2).

  • In 1996, females represented 37 percent (3,182 out of 8,600) of the arrests for forgery and counterfeiting, 45 percent (585 out of 1,300) for embezzlement, 52 percent (676 out of 1,300) for prostitution, 37 percent (3,108 out of 8,400) for offenses against family/children, and 34 percent (170,816 out of 502,400) for larceny theft (Snyder 1997, p. 2).

  • Arrests of females in several categories decreased between 1989 and 1993. These included arrests for embezzlement (down 37 percent), prostitution (down 33 percent), driving under the influence (down 31 percent), liquor law violations (down 18 percent), and drunkenness (down 25 percent). It should be noted that arrests of young men for these same offenses also decreased between 1989 and 1993 (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 3).

  • Between 1989 and 1993, arrests of females for forcible rape decreased 10 percent, while arrests for young men rose 10 percent. Further, arrests of females for drug abuse violations decreased 2 percent, while arrests of young men rose 3 percent (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 3).

  • Between 1989 and 1993, arrests of young males for burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft all decreased (down 6 percent, 1 percent, and 8 percent respectively), while arrests of young women for these same crimes increased (up 16 percent, 21 percent, and 28 percent respectively) (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 3).

  • In 1996, females represented 57 percent (111,549) of the arrests for running away and 29 percent (53,679) of the arrests for curfew and loitering law violations (Snyder 1997).

Juvenile Court Processing and Custody Decisions

As the numbers of female offenders and their offenses have changed, so has the processing of them by the juvenile court. The following 1993 statistics reflect the most recent numbers available on the handling of female offenders by the juvenile court:

  • Females represented 20 percent (297,400) of all delinquency cases handled by juvenile courts in the United States (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 10).

  • Cases involving females were less likely to be formally processed with the filing of a delinquency petition than those involving males (43 percent as opposed to 56 percent of all cases) (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 11).

  • Of those cases petitioned that involved females, 53 percent (67,000) were adjudicated, with 60 percent (40,300) of these resulting in probation. In the same year, 59 percent (390,000) of the cases petitioned that involved young men resulted in adjudication and 55 percent (214,500) of these resulted in probation (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 11).

  • More than 24 percent of females detained were charged with probation and parole violations compared with 12 percent of male juveniles (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 16).

  • Overall, female offenders were less likely (23 percent of adjudicated delinquency cases) than male offenders (29 percent of adjudicated delinquency cases) to be ordered to an out-of-home placement following juvenile court adjudication and disposition (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 16).

  • Female offenders were less likely to be placed in secure detention at some point between referral and disposition. Females were detained in 16 percent of delinquency cases as opposed to 22 percent of cases involving males. Females were most likely to be detained in cases involving drug offenses and public order offenses, while males were most likely to be detained for drug offenses (Poe-Yamagata and Butts 1996, p. 14).

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