Violent juvenile crime has fallen over the last decade — good news — but the numbers of American girls getting into trouble have continued to increase, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Girls now represent 15 percent of those held in juvenile facilities and as much as 34 percent in some states,” the survey by the nonpartisan Denver- and Washington, D.C.-based group found. Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon and New Mexico have passed laws that require “gender-specific” rehabilitation programs or plans for programs for this growing female population.
The number of girls accused of offenses has been on the rise for three decades, according to U.S. Department of Justice reports. For example, the arrest rate of girls for simple, or minor, assault in 2003 was more than triple the rate in 1980.
The NCSL report also takes a look at state trends to address “disproportionate minority contact” with the juvenile justice system at all its levels. “Various explanations have emerged for the disproportionate treatment of (ethnic minority) minors, ranging from jurisdictional issues, certain police practices and pervasive crime in some urban areas,” the report states.
In 2008, according to the report, Iowa became the first state to require a “minority impact statement” for each proposal in the state to alter juvenile sentencing, parole and probation. Connecticut followed with similar requirements. In 2010, Maryland scrutinized law-enforcement in schools, adopting a law to require “cultural competency training” for all law-enforcement officers assigned to public schools.
This year, the Center for Public Integrity also looked into school-police policies, reporting that the Los Angeles Unified School District Police —the nation’s largest school force — issued more than 33,500 tickets to mostly low-income, Latino and black students from 2009 through 2011. More than 40 percent of tickets issued in Los Angeles went to students between 10 and 14 years old for minor offenses.
Southern California public radio station KPCC prepared a map showing that tickets fell heavily on inner-city, lower-income schools. Los Angeles Unified School Police Chief Stephen Zipperman is now working on reforms to lower ticketing and refer more students to counseling.
The National Conference of State Legislatures’ report also surveys states’ policies for trying minors as adults or juveniles. In recent years, some states have moved away from the trend of trying ever-younger offenders as adults. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Missouri and Mississippi are the states that took steps to increase the age limits for keeping minors in juvenile court.
Ten states set the age for juvenile jurisdiction at 16. North Carolina and New York automatically try any minor over 16 in the adult system.