National Efforts to Address the Needs of the Adolescent Female Offender

Before the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act (42 U.S.C. 5601 et. seq.) in 1974, individual practitioners and programs were striving to make sure the needs of the adolescent female offender were met. However, with the passage of the JJDP Act, specific policies began to affect the way the juvenile court approached and processed this population. At first, the effects were coincidental at best. In recent years, however, in conjunction with Federal programs, Congress has made more deliberate strides to make sure this population is represented in current juvenile justice policy and program development.

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974

The original JJDP Act, as passed in 1974, contained two specific requirements that States needed to meet in order to access Federal juvenile justice monies. The first was the removal of all status and nonoffenders from secure confinement, and the second was the elimination of sight and sound contact between juvenile and adult offenders. During the hearings on the Detention and Jailing of Juveniles held by the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, testimony indicated that on any given day there were approximately 8,000 juveniles held in adult jails in the United States. A 1978 study by the Children's Defense Fund found that 88 percent of juveniles being held in adult jails "did not threaten community safety or their own safety," and 4 percent had committed no offense whatsoever (Jolly 1979, p. 98).

Passage of this legislation, therefore, affected the lives of thousands of juvenile delinquents, and status and nonoffenders, and had unique implications for the population of young women coming to the attention of the juvenile justice system. As early as the 1950s, it was recognized that young women were referred to the juvenile court for status offenses more often than males. For instance, according to the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, in 1956 half of the young women appearing before the juvenile court were referred for status offenses, as compared with only one-fifth of the young males (Jolly 1979, p. 98). Before enforcement of the JJDP Act, young women "convicted" of status offenses made up almost half of the population of young women in training schools, as compared with one-fourth of the male population (Chesney-Lind 1979, p. 74). Theories on the reasons behind the large number of female status offenders vary, there seems to be some consensus that at least part of the problem involves the paternalistic, protectionist policies of the juvenile court (Bergsmann 1989, p. 74; Chesney-Lind 1979, p. 71; 1989, p. 10; Jolly 1989, p. 101).

Passage of the JJDP Act brought with it the development of new policies to address the specific needs of status and nonoffenders. However, it did not solve the problems of female status offenders and their involvement with the juvenile court. According to work done by the Center for the Study of Youth Policy in 1990, more than 11 percent of young women in a one-day count of the population of public training schools were being held for status offenses in 1987. In the same year, a one-day count of the male population demonstrated that only 1 percent were being held for status offenses. While it should be noted that the 1987 statistics show marked improvement in the handling of female status offenders (30 percent were status offenders in 1977 and 71 percent in 1971), they still indicate a discrepancy in the handling of this population by the juvenile court (Schwartz, Steketee, and Schneider 1990, p. 507). Furthermore, the JJDP Act of 1974 and its amended versions from 1977 to 1988 contained no language specific to juvenile female offenders or directing States to examine this population in particular.

1992 Reauthorization of the JJDP Act

In 1992, as part of the reauthorization of the JJDP Act, new language was added by Congress that required all States applying for Federal Formula Grants dollars to examine their juvenile justice systems and identify gaps in their ability to provide services to juvenile female offenders. The language, added in Section 223(8)(B)(i-ii), specifically requires States to include in their analysis of juvenile crime problems: "(i) an analysis of gender-specific services for the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency, including the types of such services available and the need for such services for females; and (ii) a plan for providing needed gender-specific services for the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency" (JJDP Act, sec.223 (8) (B)).

Although the quality of such an inquiry varied from State to State, the new language did mark the first time that Congress used the JJDP Act as a vehicle for addressing the needs of juvenile female offenders. For many individual States, it also represented the first time an organized effort was made to scrutinize the State system specifically as it related to adolescent females, and the results led to new efforts to better serve this population.

Also added during the 1992 reauthorization was a new section of the JJDP Act that allowed for new funds for States to address specific issues in their State juvenile justice systems. State Challenge Activities were added as Part E of Title II of the JJDP Act, Section 285(B)(2), and encouraged States to apply for monies, separate from the traditional Formula Grants funds, to address one of ten specific activities.

"(A) developing and adopting policies and programs to provide basic health, mental health, and appropriate education services, including special education, for youth in the juvenile justice system...

"(B) developing and adopting policies and programs to provide access to counsel for all juveniles...

"(C) increasing community-based alternatives to incarceration by establishing programs...

"(D) developing and adopting policies and programs to provide secure settings for the placement of violent juvenile offenders by closing down traditional training schools and replacing them with secure settings with capacities of no more than 50 violent juvenile offenders...

"(E) developing and adopting policies to prohibit gender bias in placement and treatment and establishing programs to ensure that female youth have access to the full range of health and mental health services, treatment for physical or sexual assault and abuse, self-defense instruction, education in parenting, education in general, and other training and vocational services...

"(F) establishing and operating . . . a State ombudsman office for children, youth, and families";

"(G) developing and adopting policies and programs designed to remove, where appropriate, status offenders from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court...

"(H) developing and adopting policies and programs designed to serve as alternatives to suspension and expulsion from school...

"(I) increasing aftercare services for juveniles involved in the justice system by establishing programs and developing and adopting policies to provide comprehensive health, mental health, education, and vocational services and services that preserve and strengthen the families of such juveniles...

"(J) developing and adopting policies to establish (i) a State administrative structure to coordinate program and fiscal policies for children who have emotional and behavioral problems and their families among the major child serving systems [and] (ii) a statewide case review system" (JJDPA 1974, 42 U.S.C. 8501 et.seq.).

While many States sought to meet the treatment needs of young women through State Challenge Activities such as A, B, C, G, H, and I, a total of 23 States applied for and received funds to address gender-specific concerns in Challenge Activity E, more than applied for any other individual State Challenge Activity. Some of the results of this funding are outlined in the Individual State Approaches section of this report.

General Accounting Office Report on Gender Bias

Language was also added in the 1992 reauthorization requiring the General Accounting Office (GAO) to complete within one year "a study of gender bias within State juvenile justice systems." This study was to look specifically at "(i) the frequency with which females have been detained for status offenses (such as frequently running away, truancy, and sexual activity) as compared with the frequency with which males have been detained for such offenses during the five-year period ending December 1992; and (ii) the appropriateness of the placement and conditions of confinement for females" (JJDPA 1974, 42 U.S.C. 8501 et.seq.). The result of this request was a report issued by GAO in February 1995, entitled Juvenile Justice: Minimal Gender Bias Occurred in Processing Noncriminal Juveniles.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

OJJDP has supported these legislative efforts by providing specific assistance to States striving to work toward improving their State system for female offenders. The work done by three OJJDP divisions is described below. Further, OJJDP has established an internal planning committee made up of interested individuals from all its divisions to continue to ensure that the needs of young female offenders are considered in all OJJDP policy and funding decisions.

State Relations and Assistance Division

In 1994, the State Relations and Assistance Division (SRAD), sponsored a three-day training session for 13 States that had demonstrated a commitment to addressing the service needs of this population. States attending were to have an established gender services task force as part of their State Advisory Group (SAG) and to identify two individuals from the State who would be spearheading the effort. In most cases, the State Juvenile Justice Specialist and the chairperson of the gender task force were selected to attend.

The training workshop, held in Minneapolis and organized by CRA, was designed to supply participants with information on the appropriate content of services for young women, and examples of effective programming models. In a unique effort, time was also spent in individual State consultation so that State-specific service delivery needs could be addressed. Each State was then required to submit to OJJDP and CRA a copy of its plan to meet the needs of young women.

The workshop was planned and conducted by a team of consultants working with or for young women in approximately ten States. Because this team formed the basis of SRAD's ongoing technical assistance effort to States on this critical issue, SRAD also sponsored a day of specialized training and discussion for the consultant team prior to the workshop. This session was designed and conducted by CRA staff.

SRAD has continued to supply technical assistance to States through, CRA, its technical assistance provider. This assistance has both enabled States to continue their efforts begun at the 1994 training workshop and allowed additional States to begin their own statewide initiatives. As of the publication of this report, CRA has provided assistance to more than 25 States through 91 individual projects in the area of gender-specific services and treatment needs of juvenile female offenders. Examples of this assistance include the following:

  • In 1992, the State of Maryland created a specialized task force to redesign the program at the Cheltenham Young Women's Facility, Maryland's only secure care facility for young women. During 1993-94, CRA provided ongoing technical assistance to this task force, resulting in the creation of a program model for use at the facility.

  • In 1993, Baltimore's specialized probation unit, the Female Intervention Team (FIT), requested that CRA staff conduct a needs assessment of its female probation clients so that the unit might be better equipped to meet the specific needs of these young women.

  • Since 1994, CRA staff have coordinated with the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the National Institute of Corrections, and the Sixth and Seventh Annual Conferences on Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders to provide training on gender-specific services at several national training events sponsored by these organizations.

  • In 1995, at the request of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, CRA staff and consultants conducted onsite technical assistance visits at five separate female-serving programs throughout the State of Florida, each representing a different level of security, and made recommendations for improving these services.

  • In 1996, CRA staff and consultants were asked to review the use of the positive peer culture (PPC) treatment methodology at the Sauk Centre secure program in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, an all-female facility. The result was a technical assistance report outlining issues related to the PPC model and current research in female development.

  • Through individual projects in various States, CRA staff and consultants have reviewed individual programs serving young women and made recommendations for improvements in these services as they relate to the specific needs of young women.

  • Through projects in numerous States, CRA staff have provided training in gender-specific services and female development to members of State Advisory Groups, statewide planning committees, and various State and local juvenile justice practitioners.

Special Emphasis Division

In 1995, as part of the FY1995 OJJDP Program Plan, the Special Emphasis Division offered grant monies to local jurisdictions to develop specific programs for female offenders. The grant program, Comprehensive Community-Based Services for At-Risk Girls and Adjudicated Juvenile Female Offenders, was issued as part of the OJJDP SafeFutures Initiative (OJJDP 1996, p. 123).

Two grants were awarded under this program. The first went to a commission in Cook County, Illinois, to achieve specific goals. Among these were to assess the juvenile justice system in Cook County and the ways in which its components interact, develop a strategy to promote systemic change and a shift in attitudes about handling female juvenile offenders, assess alternative services available to adjudicated female juvenile offenders in Cook County, and design and implement policies and programming to meet the needs of young women (Doyle 1994, p. 18). The results of this grant included the design of a case management system and a continuum of care model for female offenders in the county, the design of a risk and needs assessment process for female offenders (developed for Cook County by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency), and improved linkages between government agencies in Cook County that process young women in the juvenile justice system.

A grant was also awarded to the YWCA in the District of Columbia for the establishment of a delinquency prevention program for at-risk adolescent females or female juvenile offenders. The services provided by the program included family counseling, follow-up support to court referrals, and 24-hour onsite services supplemented by a crisis hotline.

Also in 1995, OJJDP granted funds to Girls Incorporated, a national girl-serving organization, to complete a publication on gender-specific services and to host a half-day workshop on the need for programs for female offenders. The result of this grant was a training workshop held in Washington, DC. The Girls Incorporated publication Prevention and Parity: Girls in Juvenile Justice contains information on the prevalence of young women in the juvenile justice system and the differential treatment they receive and an outline of the risk factors for female involvement in delinquency and promising approaches to the issue. This publication is available from the Girls Incorporated National Resource Center, 441 West Michigan Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202-3233 or by calling (317) 634-7546.

Training and Technical Assistance Division

In FY1996, OJJDP Program Plan, the OJJDP Training and Technical Assistance Division offered a three-year grant to continue the work being completed through other OJJDP divisions. Specifically, the Training and Technical Assistance Program to Promote Gender-Specific Programming for Female Juvenile Offenders and At-Risk Girls requested the following: development and field testing of a generic curriculum aimed at decisionmakers in juvenile corrections and detention agencies, national advocacy groups, and community-based youth-serving agencies and organizations; inventory of female-specific programs and the preparation of a monograph suitable for national distribution; development and delivery of a technical assistance package designed to assist communities in developing gender-specific programming for juvenile female offenders; design and implementation of a targeted public education initiative; development and field testing of a generic curriculum for line staff delivering services to juvenile female offenders; and development and implementation of training-for-trainers on both generic training curricula (OJJDP 1996, p. 124). In early 1997, this grant was awarded to Greene, Peters, and Associates, 1018 16th Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37208, (615) 327-0329.

Other National Initiatives

Under the direction of OJJDP, the following training and technical assistance opportunities and activities have been conducted by various contractors and grantees. They represent a dedication to understanding and addressing the needs of the juvenile female offender.

American Correctional Association

As the result of a planning meeting between American Correctional Association (ACA) and OJJDP in August 1993, a decision was made that the ACA Juvenile Projects Division would sponsor a national conference on delinquent female offenders. The National Juvenile Female Offender Conference, entitled "A Time for Change," was held in November 1994 in Chicago, Illinois, and was attended by approximately 100 participants from more than 30 States. Participants received training on female development and behavior and analysis of the delinquency patterns of juvenile female offenders. Five specific programs and three specific State approaches to the issue were also highlighted. This conference resulted in a publication containing written versions of each workshop presentation. 1994 Juvenile Female Offenders Conference: "A Time for Change" Monograph is available by contacting the ACA Juvenile Projects Division at 4380 Forbes Avenue, Lanham, MD 20706 or by calling (301) 918-1800 or (800) ACA-JOIN.

National Center for Juvenile Justice

In cooperation with OJJDP, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (the research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges) produced a statistical analysis of the offending patterns of juvenile females in the country's juvenile justice system. This OJJDP publication, Female Offenders in the Juvenile Justice System: Statistics Summary, was published in June 1996 and contains information on arrest trends, juvenile court processing of female offenders, and statistics on both short-term and long-term custody for this population. Some of the key findings of this study are included in the profile of the female offender presented earlier in this section. Female Offenders in the Juvenile Justice System: Statistics Summary is available through the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse/NCJRS, P.O. Box 6000, Rockville, MD 20849-6000 or by calling (800) 638-8736. The document can also be ordered by sending an e-mail request to

National Institute of Corrections

Since 1995, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has sponsored annual training sessions for individuals working with juvenile female offenders. These week-long sessions have been designed to provide gender-specific developmental information on girls to practitioners from across the United States who are responsible for service delivery to this population. This training, designed by a team of consultants from State organizations, CRA and NIC, uses a combination of interactive and experiential training exercises, detailed lectures, structured planning activities, and personal reflection on gender values and beliefs to assist participants in examining their own gender biases and understanding how they affect service delivery. For more information on this training opportunity, contact Judith Blair, Correctional Program Specialist, National Institute of Corrections, 1960 Industrial Circle, Suite A, Longmont, CO 80501 or call (303) 682-0382.

OJJDP National Training and Technical Assistance Center

The National Training and Technical Assistance Center (The Center) is in the process of developing a gender-specific services Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package that will be available to elected officials, practitioners, and citizen advocates. This document is designed to provide information on resources and strategies for service delivery systems and individual programs to meet the needs of juvenile female offenders. For more information on this Jurisdictional Technical Assistance Package, contact the OJJDP National Training and Technical Assistance Center, 309 West Clark Street, Champaign, IL 61820 or call (800) 830-4031.


Bergsmann, Ilene. 1989. "The Forgotten Few: Juvenile Female Offenders." Federal Probation, pp. 73-74.

Bergsmann, Ilene. 1994. "Establishing a Foundation: Just the Facts," in 1994 National Juvenile Female Offenders Conference: "A Time for Change" Monograph, pp. 5-8. American Correctional Association, Laurel, MD.

Chesney-Lind, Meda. 1979. "Young Women in the Arms of the Law." In Teenage Women in the Juvenile Justice System: Changing Values, edited by Ruth Crown and Ginny McCarthy, pp. 53-83. New Directions for Young Women, Tucson, AZ.

Chesney-Lind, Meda. 1989. "Girl's Crime and Woman's Place: Toward a Feminist Model of Female Delinquency." Crime and Delinquency 35 (1), pp. 8-10.

Doyle, J. 1994. Application for Federal Assistance. Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago, IL.

General Accounting Office. 1995. Juvenile Justice: Minimal Gender Bias Occurred in Processing Noncriminal Juveniles. U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, DC.

Jolly, Mary Karen. 1979. "Young, Female and Outside the Law: A Call for Justice for the Girl `Delinquent,'" Teenage Women in the Juvenile Justice System: Changing Values, edited by Ruth Crown and Ginny McCarthy, pp. 97-103. New Directions for Young Women, Tucson, AZ.

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. 42 U.S.C. 5601 et. seq.

National Center for Juvenile Justice. 1996. 1987-1991 Data. Pittsburgh, PA.

OJJDP. 1996. FY 1996 Discretionary Competitive Program Announcements and Application Kit. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, DC.

Poe-Yamagata, E., and J.A. Butts. 1996. Female Offenders in the Juvenile Justice System: Statistics Summary. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, DC.

Schwartz, Ira, Martha Steketee, and V. Schneider. 1990. "Federal Juvenile Justice Policy and the Incarceration of Girls." Crime and Delinquency 36 (4), p. 507.

Snyder, Howard N. 1997. "Juvenile Arrests 1996." Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington, DC.

Steffensmeier, Darrell. 1993. "National Trends in Female Arrests, 1960-1990: Assessment and Recommendations for Research." Journal of Quantitative Criminology 9 (4), p. 415.

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