Although teenage crime rates have decreased since the mid-1990s, public dread and political discourse surrounding the subject have grown. Over the last three decades, female involvement in the juvenile justice system has gradually increased in the United States. Even being mostly involved in minor criminal offenses, girls are more likely than boys to be mistreated by the juvenile justice system because of gender expectations.
Looking at the proportion of youth across the types of offenses, females were less involved in arrests related to murders and robberies compared to their male counterparts. Between 1990 and 1999, the number of male delinquent cases entered detention by only 5%, whereas female delinquency cases surged by 50% (Ehrmann et al., 2019). According to the US Department of Justice (Ehrmann et al., 2019), in 2015, almost 50% of all female arrests were accounted for larceny-theft, simple assault, or disorderly conduct offenses. Furthermore, females were disproportionately arrested for prostitution-related offenses. Based on the report (Ehrmann et al., 2019), more than 75% of girls were prosecuted in 2015 for prostitution-related crimes. Therefore, based on the statistics, females disproportionately commit minor offenses involving theft, assaults, and prostitution-related offenses.
In analyzing the underlying reasons for the involvement of girls in delinquency, it is important to point out some sociocultural factors behind the profile of offenders. Ehrmann et al. (2019) report that child poverty, social disadvantage, and the absence of decision-making skills among adolescents are among the primary reasons that explain youth crime, especially among girls. Most of these reasons can be tied to the problems in their families, as parents are considered to be the primary actors in supervision, discipline, and teachers of social norms. However, ineffective parenting and family conflicts exacerbated by poverty and social inequalities can lead to disobedience among girls who later turn to youth crime.
It is also reported that girls are often discriminated against when getting into the juvenile justice system. Ehrmann et al. (2019) argue that girls are more likely to be judged for minor offenses while boys get off with a warning. For example, girls are more likely than boys to be brought before a judge for probation violations such as running away, breaking curfew, and defying their parents. Moreover, females are frequently detained for an extended period once in the system. Similarly, even though young women are more likely to come from broken families, have experienced abuse, and have mental illnesses, the judicial system provides fewer opportunities for treatment than facilities for young men. These mistreatments can be explained by the differences in gender expectations (Ehrmann et al.). As a sign of masculinity, boys are expected to be aggressive or violent, while girls are seen as compassionate and calm. However, the girl offenders violate the commonly accepted norms about female behavior. Thus, girls are being treated less carefully in the juvenile justice system.
In conclusion, it is important to highlight the trend that female involvement in youth crime is increasing. Regarding the types of crimes, they are committing, they are disproportionately represented in minor offenses aa theft, prostitution, and simple assault compared to males prevailing in arrests related to murders and robberies. These offenses are explained by disadvantageous families and the absence of proper parenting. Having a higher chance of being mistreated by their family, girls are also treated in less friendly and discriminatory in the juvenile justice system. This mistreatment may be explained by the fact that these offenses do not match the general expectation about their gender role.
Ehrmann, S., Hyland, N., & Puzzanchera, C. M. (2019). Girls in the juvenile justice system. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.