Why Are Girls’ Arrest Rates Declining Less Than Boys’?

Nationally we are witnessing a promising trend of declining arrest rates for youth.  However, from 1996-2011 girls’ arrest rates declined less than boys’ (42% versus 57%).  Why?

A new report from The National Crittenton Foundation on “Gender Injustice” sheds light on this question.  The report argues that girls’ social context drives much of their perceived criminal behavior.  And offers recommendations on ways for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to respond in productive ways.

For example, in 2012 girls represented 29% of youth arrested nationwide.  But their arrests were disproportionately for offenses that pose little or no threat to public safety (e.g., prostitution, theft).

A common theme among female youthful offenders is a history of trauma, conflict, and deprivation.

Common behaviors that lead girls into the juvenile justice system could be viewed as responses to this history include:

  • Fighting with parents
  • Running away
  • Older/antisocial romantic partners
  • Sex at a young age
  • Poor relationships with peers
  • Substance abuse
  • Truancy
  • Poor relationships with teachers

But these behaviors are complex and need to be looked at as such.  Running away, for example, may be both a problem behavior (placing the girl at possible risk of victimization) and a help-seeking behavior (a way she protects herself from abuse in the home).

Gender justice means a system that is both fair and effective in meeting girls’ needs in a balanced and thoughtful way.  It is time we gave some thought to it.