Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 7-1-2013


Social expectations that girls behave obediently, modestly, and cautiously result in the detention and incarceration of girls who fight back at home or in intimate relationships and who are victims of sexual exploitation. The structural discrimination that supports detaining and incarcerating girls for violating these norms is both hard to see and hard to challenge. It is often hidden behind outward good will toward girls and legitimate expressions of concern for their vulnerability and possible victimization; and it is facilitated by the many opportunities for multifactored, "best interests" -based discretionary decisions built into the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Recently there have been signs that the direction of juvenile justice in the United States may be changing for the better. Overall the number of youth, including girls, entering the juvenile justice system is declining, and many observers agree that we may be entering an era of more developmentally centered and data -driven juvenile justice policies that rely less on incarcerating youth and more on building community and family support for youth to thrive. While the current promise of a smarter, more equitable, and more effective juvenile justice system is exciting, given girls' status as a long-overlooked minority population in juvenile justice systems and the historical gender bias embedded in these systems, it is fair to wonder whether girls will be full beneficiaries of these promising developments.