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The vulnerability of females in the juvenile system, Central Texas and beyond

Jail Cell
Posted at 10:19 PM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-06 23:47:27-04

As the number of juvenile females rises, experts are calling for a closer look at juvenile facilities and their poor resource management in addressing the lack of services this population has.

The number of girls in U.S. detention centers has risen by 49 percent, according to a report by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice; but systems are ill-equipped to address their needs.

One survey conducted at a Central Texas facility in 2012 revealed the trauma and serious mental health issues that juvenile women typically face, and provided recommendations for statewide reform.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition survey looked at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood and found that 46 percent of surveyed girls reported that the staff, programs, and treatment were unable to help them cope with past trauma. In fact, according to the survey, four percent said their time in the facility did more harm than good.

“Counselors, staff, the legal system – they can’t understand where we’re coming from and what we need," said one Ron Jackson youth in the survey. "They’re always trying to judge us for our trauma.”

The survey recommended that the state, and Texas counties, increase funding and conduct further surveys to support rehabilitation and avoid re-traumatizing youth. One key finding of the survey was that therapeutic programs are the most effective in recovery for the girls.

“I’m close to going home, and I’m almost through the drug program," said one Ron Jackson youth. "Now I’ve realized I need to do this to change my life – I don’t want to live a drug life all my life.”

According to one study, 30 percent of females with a substance use disorder also had a serious mental disorder; and incarcerated juvenile females are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

"While gender disparities also exist within normative samples, the rates of disorder and co-morbidity appear to increase exponentially for girls within juvenile justice settings; leading some to suggest that a gender paradox exists," said the study.

In fact, in addition to high rates of drug and alcohol use, women in the juvenile justice system are 3.5 times more likely to deal with child-birth and 30 percent have been pregnant at least once or more.

One Baylor researcher, Danielle Parrish, recently received $3.1 Million from the National Institutes of Health to test an Intervention Program that would tackle these issues. With all of the data compiled over time regarding the vulnerability and lack of resources for females in the juvenile system, Parrish and other experts believe this is a much-needed effort for this population.

"Historically, juvenile courts primarily dealt with boys under delinquency jurisdiction and girls under status offense jurisdiction," said a study by the U.S. Department of Justice. "This distinction has often led to different processing of female status offenders in courts and in mental health and juvenile justice institutions."