Rising Rate of Incarcerated Female Juveniles

According to a recent story published on NPR, the last ten years have witnessed a decrease in the number of incarcerated male juveniles and an increase in the number female juveniles being detained in jails and residential institutions.

A report entitled “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls”, from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, estimates that females make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, accounting for more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges each year.

Co-author of the report, Georgetown University professor Peter Edelman, maintains that many of the girls that end up in the justice system have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse. Edelman claims that over fifty percent of the female juveniles aren’t being detain for serious crimes but more often are skipping school, breaking curfew or running away from home. Edelman believes that “Getting them back into school and getting them back on a path without invoking the sanctions of the juvenile and criminal justice system… is so much better in terms of not leaving those wounds and scars and preserving the possibilities for the future.”

The Georgetown report contends that juveniles don’t belong in adult jails or prisons and should not be incarcerated for minor offenses such as violating probation. This position has come under sharp criticism from opponents such as Dakota County, Minnesota district attorney James Backstrom.

In the NPR story Backstrom argues, “We’re talking about kids that are violating curfew laws, being truant from school [and] violating court orders. Do we need the authority to pick those kids up? I think we do.” Backstrom continued, saying “[I]f you ignore the small issue, you might not get to the big issue before it’s too late.”

It would appear that some states, including California, are moving at least a little closer to the position outlined in the Georgetown Report. As previously discussed by this blog, the California Supreme Court, in People v. Caballero, recently struck down lengthy prison sentences for juveniles on non-homicide offenses that effectively amounted to a sentence of life without parole.

One example of the negative impact the justice system can have on juveniles is Jabriera Handy. Four years ago, Handy was incarcerated at the Baltimore City Detention Center after her grandmother died of a heart attack shortly after Handy fought with her. Because her grandmother had died so shortly after the fight, Handy was charged as an adult with second degree murder and spent eleven months in the detention center.

Handy recalled one instance where the detention center was locked down after another inmate was stabbed to death. According to Handy, she saw the man was” just laying there with a limp body,” but had to continue on to school like nothing had happened. “[I]t wasn’t like anybody came to us to talk about what [we had] just seen,” Handy stated.


Orange County criminal defense attorney Lauren K. Johnson has extensive experience protecting the rights of the accused, especially in the context of juvenile crimes. If you have questions regarding California’s criminal law or your rights, contact attorney Lauren K. Johnson today.