Girls and Juvenile Justice Reform: Thinking Out of the Box*


Randall G. Shelden



*Keynote speech at the Fourth Annual Girls, Community, and Justice Conference, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, April 25, 2008.



Part I: Girls in the Juvenile Justice System: A Current Assessment


Let’s start by going over some of the most recent data on delinquency among girls. The latest figures from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports show that in 2006 girls constituted a little over 29% of all juvenile arrests, up slightly from 27% in 1997.  What accounts for most of this increase are arrests for “other assaults” (+20%) and disorderly conduct (+34%).  Both of these increases can be attributed to an increase in “zero tolerance” policies, resulting in a crackdown on minor fights (mostly on school grounds) and domestic violence cases.  In the latter case, law enforcement policies have resulted in a sort of “equal opportunity” tendency.  A kind of “arrest first” and ask questions later.  Never mind, that the people most likely to be victimized (women and their daughters) are also highly likely to be arrested and charged with “assault.” (See Table 1.)

            Contrary to popular opinion (largely a creation of the media) there is no evidence of a surge of violence among girls.  Less than 3% of arrests for girls were for violent index crimes – homicide, assault, robbery, rape; an almost identical percentage was found 10 years earlier.  Males remain the most violent of the species.

            As has been the case for 100 years, property offenses (mostly shoplifting) and status offenses rank the highest for girls, together accounting for almost 38% of all arrests among girls in 2006.

            While serious juvenile crime has been decreasing since the early 1990s, juvenile court caseloads have not.  Indeed, juvenile courts all over the country have been overwhelmed with mostly minor offenses – other assaults, disorderly conduct, status offenses and the like.  In a word, it has been “zero tolerance” run amok. 


Table 1  Arrests of Persons under 18, by Sex, 2006

 Male                                            Female

Number         Percent                       Number         Percent

Total                                        899,669             100.0                         369,281           100.0          


Index Crimes                       


Homicide                                                   675                    *                                                     35                    *

Forcible Rape                                        2,058                    *                                                     46                    *

Robbery                                                 17,425                   1.9                                            1,794                    *

Aggravated Assault                             26,440                   2.9                                            7,994                    2.2

Burglary                                                 43,638                   4.8                                            5,844                    1.6

Larceny-Theft                                       98,168                   10.9                                        67,672                   18.3

Motor Vehicle Theft                              14,230                   1.6                                            3,112                    *

Arson                                                       4,131                    *                                                   663                    *

   Total Violent                                       46,598                   5.1                                            9,869                    2.7

   Total Property                                    160,167                 17.8                                        77,291                   20.9

   Total Index                                         206,765                 22.9                                        87,160                   23.6


Part II Offenses


Other Assaults                                     94,367                   10.5                                        47,619                   12.9

Forgery/Counterfeiting                        1,360                     *                                                   694                    *

Fraud                                                     2,882                     *                                                1,565                    *

Embezzlement                                         502                     *                                                   410                    *

Stolen Property                                   10,793                   1.0                                             1,887                    *

Vandalism                                            59,827                   6.6                                             9,041                    2.4

Weapons                                              24,471                   2.7                                             2,727                    *

Prostitution                                                201                    *                                                   587                    *

Other Sex Offenses                                8,418                   *                                                   875                    *

Drugs                                                     90,326                  10.0                                         17,761                   4.8

Gambling                                                    382                   *                                                     23                    *

Offenses against the Family                1,820                   *                                                 1,158                   *

DUI                                                            8,546                   *                                                 2,528                   *

Liquor Laws                                         50,162                  5.6                                            28,368                  7.6

Drunkenness                                          7,877                   *                                                 2,461                   *

Disorderly Conduct                             78,637                  8.7                                          39,523                  10.6

Vagrancy                                                     939                   *                                                   345                   *

Curfew and Loitering                          56,042                  6.2                                          24,398                  6.5

Runaway                                               29,666                  3.2                                          38,461                  10.4

All Other Offenses**                        165,686                 18.4                                          61,690                  16.7


*Less than .1%

** All Other refers to such offenses as trespassing, public nuisance, failure to appear on warrants, contempt and, for juveniles especially, violation of probation and certain status offenses.  Does not include traffic offenses.


Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports, 2006. On-line, Table 33.



For instance, during the decade of the 1990s delinquency cases processed in juvenile courts across the country increased by more than 25%.  This increase was led by drug cases (up 169%), a catch-all category called “obstruction of justice” (up 115%) and “simple assaults” and “other person offenses” (each up 95%).  More recent data show a significant decrease in overall delinquency cases (-7% from 1995 to 2004), but with continuing increases in each of the above-referenced cases (“obstruction of justice” was up by 70%), but also liquor law violations (+78%) and another catch-all called “nonviolent sex offenses” (up 48%).  (See Table 2.)

            The differences between males and females are noteworthy.  Between 1995 and 2004 male cases declined by 14%, while female cases increased by 8%.  In fact, the proportion of all delinquency caseloads that were girls went from 19% to 27%.  Clearly something has been happening to girls. 

Most of the increases for girls were for what the official reports call “person offenses” (mostly “simple assaults”), drugs and public order offenses.  Overall rates for these “person offenses” went up by 10% for girls and down by 13% for boys; male drug case rates were stable during this time, while female rates went up slightly.  As for public order cases, for girls the rate went from about 5 (per 1,000) to about 9, compared to a very slight increase for boys.[1]

I would be remiss if I did not mention something very important about “person offenses.”  A lot has been written in the press and among a few popular books (e.g., “See Jane Hit”) claiming that girls are getting more and more violent.  Such irresponsible claims cite the increase in the broad category of “person offenses” and ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of these cases are “simple assault” – meaning no one was seriously hurt and no weapons were used.  I will return to this subject shortly.

I should also mention something about the categories of “obstruction of justice” and “nonviolent sex offenses.”  The definition of “obstruction of justice” provided by OJJDP includes such behaviors as “acting in a way calculated to lessen the authority or dignity of the court” (in common terminology, “pissing off the judge”), “failing to obey the lawful order of the court” (e.g., go to school, obey your parents, etc.) and especially “violating probation or parole.”  Curiously, the category of “nonviolent sex offenses” is not defined in the glossary of the Juvenile Court Statistics, but within the category of public order offenses is “sex offenses” and within this category we have “all offenses having a sexual element not involving violence.”  This includes statutory rape, indecent exposure (this probably includes the popular male pastime of peeing in public), prostitution, lewdness, fornication, etc.  It should be noted that none of these categories are felonies.


Table 2 Referrals to Juvenile Court, 1995-2004.

Most serious offense

Number of cases

Percent change






Total delinquency






Person offenses










Criminal homicide










Forcible rape




















Aggravated assault










Simple assault










Other violent sex offenses










Other person offenses









Property offenses






























Motor vehicle theft








































Stolen property offenses










Other property offenses









Drug law violations









Public order offenses










Obstruction of justice










Disorderly conduct










Weapons offenses










Liquor law violations










Nonviolent sex offenses










Other public order offenses









Violent Crime Index*









Property Crime Index**









* Includes criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
** Includes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
Note: Detail may not add to totals because of rounding.

Source: OJJDP, Juvenile Court Statistics2003-2004.



The key question here is whether or not these trends reflect changes in actual behavior or changes in police and court policies and practices.  Based upon self-report surveys, there is no evidence that these behaviors have actually increased.  In the annual survey of high school seniors, one of the questions asked has to do with whether or not, during the previous 12 months, a student “Got into a serious fight in school or at work.”  The percentage of males saying yes was 20 in 1994 and 19 in 2003; for girls these percentages were 12 and 9 respectively.  Another question asked them if they “took part in fight with group of friends against another group.” For males the percentage was the same in both years (25%) and for females it was 14 and 15 respectively.  Another asked whether they “hurt someone badly enough to need bandages or doctor.”  For males the percentage saying yes decreased from 21 to 19; for females it stayed at 5.  Finally, for the question concerning “used gun or knife or other weapon to get something from a person” remained at 7% for boys and declined from 2% to 1% for girls.  Similar trends are found for all other offenses, including drug use (in this case an overall downward trend).[2]  By the way, it should be noted that school crime has been declining since the early 1990s, especially violence.[3] (See Table 3.)  This is not exactly indicative of a “crime wave” among girls!

So the only conclusion we can logically arrive at is that there has been a change in the response to juvenile behavior, especially girls.  After an exhaustive examination of available data, Meda Chesney-Lind and Katherine Irwin conclude that


increased social control of girls in the family, the peer group, and the school system have served to push increasing numbers of girls into the formal system of social control – the juvenile justice system – for offenses that were previously either ignored or labeled as non-violent offenses.[4]


Table 3  High School Seniors Reporting Involvement in Delinquent Activities in the Last 12 Months, 1994 & 2003, by Gender (percent engaging at least once).


                                                                              Male              Female

                                                                                               1994     2003     1994     2003


Argued/had fight with parents                                                      87         88         94         92

Hit instructor/supervisor                                                                5          5           1          1

Got into serious fight in school or at work                                     20         19         12          9

Took part in fight with group of friends against another group          25         25         14         15

Hurt someone badly enough to need bandages or doctor               21         19           5          5

Used gun or knife or other weapon to get something from a

            person                                                                            7         7           2          1

Took something not belonging to you worth under $50                   39         34         23         21

Took something not belonging to you worth over $50                     17         14           5          5

Took something from a store without paying for it                          36         32         25         23

Took car not belonging to you or someone in your family                 8            8          3          2

Gone into some house/building when you weren’t

            supposed to be there                                                      32         29         17         17

Set fire to someone’s property on purpose                                      5         7            1         1

Damaged school property on purpose                                          21         20            7         6

Was arrested and taken to police station                                     13         12            4         4



Source: Sourcebook on Criminal Justice Statistics.


All of this has resulted in an increasing tendency to detain girls.  Indeed, from between 1991 and 2003, there was a 98% increase in the detention of girls, compared to a 29% increase for boys, plus an 88% increase in the commitment of girls to institutions, compare to only 23% for boys.[5]

            Their conclusion is further substantiated by the longer time period of 1985-2004.  During this time we have seen a growing likelihood of formal processing within the juvenile court.  Specifically, during this time the likelihood of a case being petitioned to court went from 48% to 60% for males and from 35% to 48% for females. This was especially true for drug and public order cases; for males the percentage of drug cases petitioned to court went from 45% to 60%; for females, the percentage increased from 33 to 49; for public order, among males the petition rate went from 45% to 59%, while for females the rate went from 44% to 52%.[6]  Observers of the juvenile court (myself included) continue to note the long waits in crowded corridors and seating areas; and make note of the fact that these are not major felonies being processed here!

            So much for “deinstitutionalization” and “diversion” that was supposed to have begun during the 1970s.  Actually, such a process did in fact start during this time, but was undercut by a strong Republication backlash.[7] What happened was the passage of the Juvenile Justice Act in the 1980s resulting in a narrowing of the definition of status offender so that any child who had violated a “valid court order” would not be covered under the deinstitutionalization provisions. The change allowed judges to reclassify a status offender who violated a court order as a delinquent. This meant that a girl who ran away from a court-ordered placement (a halfway house, foster home, or the like) or simply ran away for a second time could be relabeled a delinquent and locked up.

Before the enacted change, judges apparently engaged in other, less public, efforts to circumvent deinstitutionalization. These included what some have called “bootstrapping” status offenders into delinquents by issuing criminal contempt citations, referring or committing status offenders to secure mental health facilities, or referring them to “semisecure” facilities.[8] 

The so-called “training schools” girls have been sent to have been notorious for abuse, starting with “houses of refuge” back in the early 1800s.  One recent study by Human Rights Watch documented what is done to girls within the juvenile penal system of New York State. Their report, which focused on two training schools for girls, concluded that “far too often, girls experience abusive physical restraints and other forms of abuse and neglect, and are denied the mental health, educational, and other rehabilitative services they need. Because of the facilities’ remote locations, confined girls are isolated from their families and communities.”  Further, they note that


a disproportionate number of girls confined in New York are African-Americans from families who have lived in poverty for generations, with parents or other close relatives who themselves have been incarcerated. In many cases, these girls fall into juvenile facilities through vast holes in the social safety net, after child welfare institutions and schools have failed them. In the wake of legal reform in 1996, girls who commit “status offenses” such as disobedience and running away from home are no longer supposed to be placed in custody, but such offenses—and the related issue of involvement with child welfare agencies because of parental abuse and neglect—continue to function as gateways through which particularly vulnerable children are drawn into the juvenile justice system.[9]


This description also applies to most other “training schools” for girls, as thoroughly documented for the past 100 plus years.[10]  Given such overwhelming evidence one might reasonably ask why we continue to allow such institutions to exist.

What also occurred in the 1980s was a concerted effort to crackdown on domestic violence.  Here is another classic example of “unintended consequences” since girls began to be arrested and referred to juvenile court on charges of “assault.” A study in Maryland found that while virtually all of the “person-to-person” offenses (97.9%) involved “assault,” about half of them were “family centered” and involved such activities as “a girl hitting her mother and her mother subsequently pressing charges,”among others.[11]  Another study examined nearly 1000 girls’ files from four California counties and found that a majority of their offenses involved assault. However, a close reading of these girls’ case files revealed that most of their assault charges were the result of “nonserious, mutual combat situations with parents.”[12] Case descriptions ranged from self‑defense (e.g., “father lunged at [daughter] while she was calling the police about a domestic dispute and [Daughter] hit him”) to trivial arguments (e.g., girl arrested “for throwing cookies at her mother”).[13]  Some critics have called the trend toward criminalizing behaviors previously ignored or treated informally as “upcriming.”[14]

Not surprisingly, minority girls have received the brunt of such formalized processing, as noted by numerous studies.[15]  One example of this has been the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a “zero tolerance” program within many schools.  This program, and others like it, has operated on the assumption that girls and boys are equally as likely to engage in “bullying” and other “aggressive” behaviors on school grounds.  An analysis by Chesney-Lind and Irwin found that while girls’ aggression is mostly of a nonviolent nature, such behavior has been conceptualized as “the equivalent to the physical violence boys tend to commit.”[16]  Since minorities have been far more likely to be singled out this policy has contributed to what Chesney-Lind and Irwin call a “schools-to-jails” track for minorities.[17]

            To summarize, American society has become more formalized than ever before in the reaction to girls’ behavior. What used to be either ignored altogether or treated informally within community settings (e.g., within schools or families) has now been thrust into the juvenile justice system.  This trend is not exclusive to juveniles but applies to adults too.  Witness the huge increase of the incarceration rate, which has grown by more than 500% during the past 30 years, and a continuing growth of the entire crime control industry.[18] The results are far-reaching as more and more girls have been officially labeled as “delinquents.”

            What has been done to address the needs of girl offenders?  Successful programs are few and far between, as the next section will show.


Part II: Programs for Girl Offenders

Girl offenders, while they share many of the same problems as their male counterparts (coming from poor communities and from disrupted and violent families, with difficulties in school), additionally confront sexual abuse, sexual assaults, unplanned pregnancies, and adolescent motherhood.

            Because the majority of delinquency prevention programs are co-ed, the specific needs of girls are either shortchanged or simply ignored because of the population of boys who outnumber them.  Programs that are single-sex within the juvenile justice system provide far more options for boys than for girls.  In fact, back in the mid-1990s a list of “potentially promising programs” identified by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention cites 24 programs specifically for boys in contrast to only 2 programs specifically for girls.[19]  Ironically, one program geared for incarcerated teen fathers has no counterpart for incarcerated teen mothers.

            Often programs tend to miss the “at risk” years for girls.  A comprehensive survey of 112 individual youth-oriented programs (for both delinquent and non-delinquent youth) showed less than 8% provided services to girls between the ages of 9 and 15, the crucial determining years of adolescence, and the years when self-esteem plummets.  Rather, services and programs tended to serve girls younger than the age of 9 and those between 14 and 21 years of age.[20]

            Moreover, the few programs available for girls often tend to address single issues, such as teen pregnancy and mothering, although occasionally other problems like substance abuse or gang behavior are included.  This pattern is largely a result of issue-specific funding initiatives, but it means that girls’ often interconnected and overlapping problems get ignored.  Similarly, programs tend to be more reactive rather than preventive, concentrating more on girls who are already in trouble than on girls who are at-risk of getting into trouble.[21]

            Unfortunately, at-risk youth possess high degrees of overlap in services needed; thus, girls who are drug addicts may also have histories of being abused, suicidal tendencies, academic difficulties, and/or be in need of gainful employment.  Patterns of multiple service needs are unfortunately increasing just as public funding to meet these needs has proportionately decreased. (As of this writing – winter, 2008 – national priorities are dominated by the “war on terrorism” and the continued occupation of Iraq.)  Ultimately, at-risk youth’s multiple needs points to the necessity of more comprehensive programming than is available within any one given program or system.

            A good snap-shot of where we are nationally on girls’ issues and programming can be seen from a brief overview of the activities of 23 states that successfully applied for challenge grant funds from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.  This review indicates that most states are in the very early stages of understanding the needs of girls in their systems. As a result, of the states where information was available (21), virtually all (95%) used some of these funds to merely gather data on the characteristics and needs of the girls in their systems – this I find ironic since there is a vast amount of literature already available documenting what these needs are![22]  Slightly over a third (38%) funded a specific new program for girls or expanded an existing program that seemed successful.  (I emphasize “seemed” to make the point that many a program is started because, from someone’s perspective, it “feels good” or they have a “gut feeling” it will work; many continue, with no evidence of effectiveness, because it “seems to work.”)  About a quarter (28%) of the states held either a conference and/or undertook special training on girls’ needs and slightly under a quarter (23%) formed special committees.  Finally, only ten percent of the states indicated that their committees were involved in the crafting of specific legislation and/or system policy changes.[23]  In my view, this is not very encouraging!

Among the specific needs that programs for girls should address are the following: dealing with the physical and sexual abuse in their lives (from parents, boyfriends, pimps, and others); the threat of HIV/AIDS; dealing with pregnancy and motherhood; drug and alcohol dependency; confronting family problems; vocational and career counseling; managing stress; and developing a sense of efficacy and empowerment. Many of these needs are universal and should be part of programs for all young people, but they are particularly important for young women.[24]

Programs must be continuously scrutinized to guarantee that they are serving as genuine alternatives to girls’ incarceration rather than simply functioning to extend the social control of girls. The tendency of programs to become more “security” oriented in response to girls’ propensity to run away must also be resisted.   Indeed, a component of successful programming for girls is advocacy and ongoing monitoring of the closed institutions. If nothing else can be learned from the rocky history of nearly two decades of efforts to decarcerate youths, it is an appreciation of how fraught with difficulty these efforts are and how easily their gains can be eroded. We also note the spread of more programs for girls that specifically target some of their special needs, such as in the areas of abuse and pregnancy.

Detention Diversion Advocacy Project

This is a program that started in San Francisco in 1993 under the direction of Dan Macallair and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. I have to admit that this is a personal favorite, partly because I did the first evaluation and have followed its growth over the years.[25] In brief, this is a program that identifies high risk youth who have been referred to court and are detained.  DDAP provides an intensive level of community-based monitoring and advocacy through the use of what is known as Disposition case advocacy defined as “the efforts of lay persons or nonlegal experts acting on behalf of youthful offenders at disposition hearings.”[26] It is based in part on the more general concept of “case management” which has been defined as a “client-level strategy for promoting the coordination of human services, opportunities, or benefits.”  Case management seeks to achieve two major outcomes: 1) “the integration of services across a cluster of organizations” and 2) continuity of care.[27]  The main focus of case management is to develop a network of human services that integrates the development of client skills and the involvement of different social networks and multiple service providers.[28]

            The results of the initial evaluation showed that after a three-year follow-up, the recidivism rate for the DDAP group was 34 percent, compared to a 60 percent rate for the control group. Detailed comparisons holding several variables constant (e.g., prior record, race, age, gender) and examining several different measures of recidivism (e.g., subsequent commitments, referrals for violent offenses) showed that the DDAP youths still had a significantly lower recidivism rate.

Since this evaluation was completed DDAP has expanded into several new locations, notably in Baltimore, Washington, DC and Philadelphia.  An evaluation was conducted on the program in Philadelphia, also showing positive results.[29]

I followed my initial evaluation with a closer look at how girls fared in this program.  About one-fifth of the sampled cases were girls, so there were sufficient numbers to draw some conclusions.  In general, the recidivism rates for the girls in DDAP pretty much paralleled those for the boys.  Specifically, 30% of the DDAP girls were recidivists compared to 48% of the girls in the control group.  Although this difference was not statistically significant, further analysis found that the control group was far more likely to have two or more subsequent referrals (43.5% vs. 11.6%).  In other words, while the overall recidivism rates were not statistically significant (including no differences as far as serious and minor recidivists are concerned), it appears that the DDAP girls had only one subsequent appearance in court, if they returned at all.[30]

Let’s now consider some other nationally recognized programs specifically designed for girls, starting with those recognized by an organization called Girls, Incorporated. 

Some Specific Programs for Girls


There are several sources that provide reviews of programs for girls, especially Prevention and Parity: Girls in Juvenile Justice by Girls Incorporated.[31] Few of these programs have been subjected to rigorous evaluation, so as you read, judge elements of the programs against what we currently know about effective and ineffective strategies for working with troubled girls. The section concludes by suggesting some policy implications that emerge from the review.


Children of the Night      


Children of the Night is a program begun in 1979 in southern California to aid young prostitutes, the majority of whom are girls who have run away from abusive homes. The current director, Lois Lee started it, while she was a graduate student in sociology at UCLA studying the relationships between prostitutes and their pimps in the Los Angeles area. Lee asked herself, “Why would a girl stand on a street corner and do something deplorable, then give all the money she earned to a pimp?” Soon she began to offer her apartment as a temporary shelter to the young males and females who wanted to escape the life.[32]

The program consists of:  (1) a twenty‑four‑hour hot line (1-800-551-1300) for those who want someone to talk to or to get off the streets and away from pimps; (2) a walk‑in center in Hollywood that provides medical aid, clothing, crisis intervention, and referrals for housing, drug counseling, schools, jobs, and foster home placement, among other things; (3) free professional counseling by volunteer psychologists and psychiatrists; (4) an outreach component whose trained volunteers walk the streets distributing informational materials to potential clients and engaging in on‑the‑spot counseling; and (5) a “turn‑in‑a‑pimp” component that entails cooperation among the youths, the agency, the police, and the court system (the aim here is to obtain court testimony against pimps to assist in the prosecution of individuals who otherwise might go free because of lack of evidence).


National Programs of Girls, Incorporated[33]


Girls, Incorporated (formerly the Girls Clubs of America) recently published a summary of the existing “state of the art” as far as programs for girls are concerned. Their report begins its summary with a look at their own national program, which sponsors affiliates and outreach programs at more than nine hundred program sites.

Girls Incorporated has sponsored several different programs that are most significantly linked to those who are “at risk” of getting into trouble. These programs are offered “through a network of 1,000 sites nationwide and are facilitated by trained professional staff.” Funding for the various programs comes from several major foundations, such as the Lilly Endowment, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Nancy Reagan Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the W. T. Grant Foundation. 


Friendly PEERsuasion.  This program provides assistance to help young women avoid substance abuse “by providing accurate information, practicing refusal skills and developing healthy, fun ways to reduce stress and teaching what they have learned to younger children.” An evaluation of this program found modest success in reducing drinking and drug use.[34]


Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy. This program avoid early pregnancy through fostering communication skills, providing health education and helps them plan for the future through four age-appropriate components known as “Growing Together,” “Will Power/Won’t Power,” “Taking Care of Business” and “Health Bridge.”  The first two of these components have been translated into Spanish.  An evaluation found that those who participated in one or more components of the program were less likely to experience pregnancy than those who did not. Also, those who participated in two or more components were less likely to engage in sexual intercourse without birth control than those who participated in a single program component.[35]


Local Programs Sponsored by Girls, Incorporated


A program in Minneapolis known as The City, Inc. Community Intervention for Girls provides a comprehensive range of services, addressing such issues as substance abuse, employability, parenting, and urban poverty. Two specific programs within this grouping include Kupona Ni’Uhuru (which means “healing is freedom”) and Oshki Bug (meaning “new leaf”), both based upon healing practices of African American and Native American cultures.  These two cultures that represent the majority of girls served by The City, Inc.  Included within these programs are alternative schools for girls who cannot attend regular public schools and a group home for those who need more intensive attention.

A program in Baltimore known as the Female Intervention Team (FIT) supervises and provides various treatment services for adjudicated delinquent girls or those in need of services. The founder of this program, Marian Daniel, wanted to design a program to “make it look as if girls might want to come.” They have an “infant and toddler” program to help young women learn good parenting skills. They also provide family counseling and tutoring, recreation activities, and close monitoring by FIT “case managers” who, by using the “case management approach,” are able to provide more intensive services than do regular probation officers.

The Harriet Tubman Residential Center in Auburn, New York is another program sponsored by Girls, Inc. and one of the ones that responded to our questionnaire. The girls in this program have been adjudicated in juvenile court. What we find most interesting about this program is that it is research based. That is, the program description includes a review of the literature on the problem of female delinquency in addition to research on developmental theory. Therefore, this program focuses on women’s issues and development and tries to offer services that relate to these issues. The program description includes four specific “outcome objectives”: (1) self‑management (this includes such things as personal hygiene and developing responsibility for one’s own physical well‑being); (2) relationship building (includes interacting with peers and parents, and developing an understanding of nonviolent methods of solving problems); (3) empowerment and self‑direction (focusing on such issues as academics, vocational development, and independent living); and (4) future orientation (includes setting personal goals and a sense of future direction). The program takes into account the differences between the way boys and girls develop and how they view their surrounding world (e.g., boys tend to be “task oriented” whereas girls focus on “building relationships”).

The P.A.C.E. Center for Girls, Inc. (which stands for Practical, Academic, Cultural, and Educational) is a program located in Jacksonville, Florida. This program is a “gender‑sensitive, non‑profit, non‑residential, community‑based program providing comprehensive education and therapeutic intervention services to troubled girls.” The program focuses on at‑risk girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Begun in 1985, it now has been replicated in several other locations, including Bradenton, Orlando, Miami, and Tallahassee. 

The P.A.C.E. program takes a holistic approach and focuses on providing such services as life management skills, community service, counseling, and self‑esteem building. It offers both day programs and aftercare services. It provides a fully accredited high school program that works toward a high school diploma and also gives those who want it an opportunity to enroll in college‑preparatory classes while developing career plans and building self‑esteem. P.A.C.E. also has programs (e.g., through counseling and life management assistance) that address such problems as pregnancy and drug abuse, cultural awareness and responsible health choices, and encourage involvement and volunteerism in the community (by requiring each girl in the program to participate in at least two different community service projects). P.A.C.E. also provides aftercare and placement services.

The Department of Justice and OJJDP praised the P.A.C.E. program as a model program rated much higher than any other did. P.A.C.E. is cited by the OJJDP publication called What Works: Promising Interventions in Juvenile Justice. The University of Florida does yearly evaluations, and thus far the outcomes have been very positive, showing a success rate of 78 percent.[36]


OJJDP Model Programs for girls

            Here are some programs highlighted by OJJDP which have been evaluated using treatment and control groups.


Girls’ Circle


This is a support group that addresses the specialized needs of girls between the ages 9 and18.  The aim is to counteract social and interpersonal forces that impede girls’ growth and development. The program consists of a 10-week curriculum. Each week a group of girls of similar age and development meets with a facilitator for either 90- or 120-minute sessions. During this time, the girls take turns talking and listening to one another respectfully about their concerns and interests. They further express themselves through creative or directed activities such as role-playing, drama, journaling, poetry, drama, dance, drawing, collage, and clay. Gender-specific themes and topics are introduced that relate to the girls’ lives, such as body image, goals, sexuality, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, competition, decision-making, friendships, and trusting oneself. A key component in the model is the council-type format of one group member speaking at a time, with the expectation of attentive listening from other participants. This form of communication intends to increase empathy skills and mutual understanding among the whole group. The primary feature, rather than a structure marked by separateness and autonomy, is an increase of empathic responsiveness in the context of interpersonal mutuality.

            An evaluation found significant increases in posttest body image scores, perceived social support, and level of self-efficacy. However, self-esteem and locus of control did not improve.[37]


Movimiento Ascendencia (Upward Movement)


Located in Pueblo, Colorado, this program provides girls with positive alternatives to substance use and gang involvement, with the use of outreach workers. Activities are designed around three main components: cultural awareness, mediation or conflict resolution, and self-esteem or social support. The program includes mentoring, recreational activities, tutoring, cultural enhancement and close involvement with parents.  The location also provides a safe haven for girls.

An evaluation found that girls in the treatment group showed a greater reduction in delinquency, along with higher grades than those in the control group.[38]


Nurse–Family Partnership (NFP)


This program provides low-income mothers with home visitation services from public health nurses. NFP nurses work intensively with these mothers to improve maternal, prenatal, early childhood health, and well-being with the expectation that this intervention will help achieve long-term improvements in the lives of at-risk families. The program is designed to improve five broad domains of family functioning: Parental roles; family and friend support; health (physical and mental); home and neighborhood environment; major life events (e.g., pregnancy planning, education, employment).

The program addresses such issues as substance abuse, poor maternal and infant outcomes, suboptimal childcare, and a lack of opportunities for the children. Every member of the family gets involved in the program.

An evaluation was done through three large studies (Elmira, N.Y.; Memphis, Tenn.; Denver, Colo.). The study found that not only did the mother’s prenatal health (especially in relation to their use of cigarettes) improve (compared to a control group), but the number of preterm deliveries decreased, there were fewer injuries to children and the mothers made better use of the social welfare system. A 15-year follow-up of the Elmira program found that there was a significant reduction in child abuse and neglect, reduced problems associated with drug use, reduced arrests among the mothers and a significant reduction (54%) in arrests among the 15-year-olds.[39]


The Parent–Child Assistance Program (P–CAP)


Begun in Seattle this program is a paraprofessional home visitation model for extremely high-risk substance–abusing women. The program concentrates not only on reducing alcohol and drug use but also on reducing other risk behaviors and addressing the health and social well-being of the mothers and their children. The goals of the program are as follows 1) assist mothers in obtaining treatment, maintaining recovery, and resolving the complex problems associated with their substance abuse, 2) guarantee that the children are in a safe environment and receiving appropriate health care, 3) effectively link families with community resources, and 4) demonstrate successful strategies for working with this population and thus reduce the numbers of future drug- and alcohol-affected children. Case workers (who are paraprofessionals) have a maximum caseload of 15 families. They visit client homes, transport clients and their children to important appointments, link clients with appropriate service providers, and work actively within the context of the extended family. The intervention lasts 36 months. Advocates visit client homes weekly for the first 6 weeks, then at least once every 2 weeks, depending on client needs, for the duration of the program.

An evaluation found that alcohol and drug abuse rates after 36 months were slightly lower among the treatment group than the control group (28 percent versus 24 percent). A smaller sample of clients who were the most involved with their case workers increased the difference to 53 percent versus 24 percent. The treatment group was also more likely to use birth control than the control groups (73 percent versus 52 percent) and have the appropriate custody of their child (69 percent versus 29 percent).[40]




Located in New York, the goal of the this program is to provide peer-oriented outreach/support to ensure coordination of drug treatment, prenatal, postpartum, pediatric, and family support services for pregnant and postpartum women.  The program targets specifically African-American or Hispanic women who are on public assistance, who have been ordered to participate in treatment, have experienced frequent violent traumas (e.g., sexual assault, death of a loved one), and have smoked crack cocaine during their last pregnancy. Strategies include relapse prevention counseling, acupuncture detoxification, prenatal care, housing, transportation, child care, nutrition, assistance with child welfare, Medicaid, and sponsorship for attendance at NA meetings.

Program counselors (known as “SISTERS”) are women in recovery who have experienced many years of addiction, abusive relationships, life on the streets, birth of infants with positive toxicology, and removal of their child by protective services.

An evaluation found that, in comparison to a control group, the participants in this program were less likely after one year to be using drugs, had improved scores on measures of depression and self-efficacy, experienced a significant decrease in parental stress, used more services, and among those who gave birth, had much healthier babies.[41]


Urban Women against Substance Abuse (UWASA)

            This is a 28-week, school-based program targeting Puerto Rican, Latina, African-American, and Caribbean-American girls (ages 9–11) and their female caregivers. They use a self-development curriculum that teaches girls to build their cultural and gender identity, while discouraging alcohol and drug use, promoting HIV awareness, and exploring possible career options.  They also have a curriculum to apply to mothers that include “mother-daughter sharing sessions.” 

            An evaluation of this program found that the girls in the program were more likely than a comparison group not in the program to exhibit much greater awareness of issues related to HIV, a better record of substance use (girls in the comparison group actually got worse), and exhibited an improvement in their attitudes about sexual activity.  Especially noteworthy was the fact that the mother-daughter relationships improved significantly for the treatment group.[42]


Part III: Is That All There Is?


            After this brief review I have one concluding thought:  is that all there is?  In the richest country in world history, is this the best we have been able to come up with?  True, there are some good programs described here which have been proven to be rather successful in addressing the problems faced by girls today. There are probably a lot of local programs that you may be familiar with but have not been evaluated and/or come to the attention of national groups like OJJDP. But they are so few in number and serve such a small number of girls that they barely make a dent in the problem.  And who is to say, given the still dominant conservative attitudes in America today, that the funding will continue?  Some of the promising programs Meda and I reviewed in the first edition of our book have disappeared and it looks like a few mentioned in our third edition will also disappear – mostly because of the lack of funding.

            This problem is not restricted to girls or to boys, or even to offenders in general.  Rather, the overall stinginess on the part of both the federal and state government applies to various social programs for people in need all over the country. 

            I would like to propose a totally different way of looking at this issue.  Let’s pretend for a moment that we are looking at this situation from 30,000 feet or pretend that we have arrived from another planet.  What would we see before us?  We would see many contradictions. We would see a country awash with cash, richer and more technologically sophisticated that any in world history.[43]  We would also see a country that is in many ways starving to death, with perhaps as many as half the population living from paycheck to paycheck, with many living on the streets and many more a paycheck away from such a status.[44]  We would see a tremendous growth in the number of millionaires and even billionaires during the past couple of decades, with a simultaneous income and wealth gap that is greater than any time since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.[45]  We would see many sections of our great cities looking like Third World countries, complete with boarded up or fenced in factories and thousands living in alleys, side streets, sewers, burned out buildings and the like. We would also see an estimated 200,000 homeless veterans.[46]

            We would see expenditures of more than a trillion dollars on a war with no end in sight[47] and more than $60 billion more to provide “temporary housing” for the poor in the form of prisons and jails.[48]  We hear about the glowing reports of a booming stock market that benefits a select few, while the typical American sees little “trickling down.”[49]

            We also see literally millions of families bursting apart because we have become a “low wage” society, with more and more absent fathers and stressed out mothers, along with suffering children. Some of these children are the girls that end up sitting in detention because they are “incorrigible” or “beyond control.” 

I would like to suggest that it is not the girls who are “incorrigible” and “beyond control” but rather the country itself and especially those who run it.  I often write the following on the black board in my classes:  “We create and sustain conditions that have inevitable negative consequences and then turn around and blame the victims of these conditions.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of these social conditions.  In a report entitled “The Status of Women in the United States” we are informed that women’s wages remains far behind men at about 67% and women are still found in mostly traditional “feminine” occupations.  For instance, women constitute 97% of all secretaries, 95% of all child care workers, 92% of all nurses, 75% of all cashiers and 77% of all public school teachers.[50] As you might guess, the median wages for these occupations are among the lowest in the labor market, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.[51] The status of minority women remains the lowest, as about one-fourth of African-American and Native-American women live below the poverty level, with Hispanic women a close second at 22%, compared to only 9% of white women. A little more than one-fourth of single-parent women live below the poverty level; and most of them work at least part time.[52]

Not surprisingly, the impact on children is enormous, especially since the distribution of food stamps and other assistance has declined significantly in recent years.[53]  The proportion of children living in poverty varies significantly by race – in 2005, 34% of all black children and 28% of all Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared to only 17% of white children.[54]  It is any wonder, then, that the odds of ending up in prison someday are so much greater among black and Hispanic children?  For children born in 2001, about one-third of black males and 6% of black females will end up in prison someday, in contrast to only 6% of white males and less than 1% of white females.  The odds for Hispanic children were 17% for males and 2% for females.[55]

These are just a few economic indicators I could cite, as the fact is no matter what sort of social indicator you choose to look at, minority children and children living with single mothers are not faring very well in this society.[56]

Before I move into my conclusions and recommendations, I would like to draw upon a couple of quotes from Vietnamese Zen Master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh, who said following:[57]


When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce.  You look into the reasons it is not doing well.  It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun.  You never blame the lettuce.  Yet if we have problems with our friends or our family we blame the other person.  But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments.  That is my experience.  No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.  If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change. 


Later in his book, he describes young prostitutes in Manila as follows:[58]


In the city of Manila there are many young prostitutes; some are only fourteen or fifteen years old.  They are very unhappy.  They did not want to be prostitutes, but their families are poor and these young girls went to the city to look for some kind of job, like street vendor, to make money to send back to their families.  Of course this is true not only in Manila, but in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, in New York City, and in Paris also.  After only a few weeks in the city, a vulnerable girl can be persuaded by a clever person to work for him and earn perhaps one hundred times more money than she could as a street vendor.  Because she is so young and does not know much about life, she accepts and becomes a prostitute.  Since that time, she has carried the feeling of being impure, defiled, and this causes her great suffering.  When she looks at other young girls, dressed beautifully, belonging to good families, a wretched feeling walls up in her, a feeling of defilement that becomes her hell.


But if she could look deeply at herself and at the whole situation, she would see that she is the way she is because other people are the way they are...No one among us has clean hands.  No one of us can claim that it is not our responsibility.  The girl in Manila is that way because of the way we are.  Looking into the life of that young prostitute, we see the lives of all the “non-prostitutes.”  And looking at the non-prostitutes and the way we live our lives, we see the prostitute.  Each thing helps to create the other...the truth is that everything contains everything else.  We cannot be, we only inter-be.  We are responsible for every thing that happens around us.



I referenced these quotes for a specific reason and that is to begin an argument for a totally different approach.  It is time, as people often say, to think “out of the box.”


Thinking Out of the Box


            Back in 1962 a man named Thomas Kuhn wrote a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.[59]  In this book he argued that in the sciences certain “paradigms” or models serve to guide those who practice the scientific method.  A paradigm can be defined as a collection of beliefs shared by scientists. They include a collection of general agreements, models, or theories about how problems are to be understood and resolved. These theories or models are used to measure success at explaining things and they make note of certain “anomalies” that come up which can be used to guide improvements to the theory.  

However, there are certain occasions when some of these anomalies may lead to what can be called a “crisis” in the paradigm itself.  These are called “revolutions” in scientific thinking and they usually lead to rather dramatic shifts in the thinking about a phenomenon.  Classic examples include the discoveries of Copernicus who challenge the conventional paradigm of viewing the sun revolving around the earth, Darwin’s work on evolution, the work of Isaac Newton and Galileo, and in the field of linguistics the work of Noam Chomsky (often called the “Chomskian Revolution”).  The development of Renaissance Humanism and the Reformation also come to mind. More recent examples include the Human Genome Project.

            What always occurs during these “revolutions” is that the prevailing paradigm sort of runs into a brick wall in that there are some “anomalies” that cannot be explained via the prevailing models or paradigms.  The answers to these tough questions must come out of a totally different paradigm, a new way of thinking.  These paradigms come from people who are “thinking out of the box.”

            When considering the problem of delinquency and crime the prevailing model of how to solve this problem comes from the more general paradigm known as “positivism.” More specifically, the dominant view comes from the branch of positivism that locates the causes and hence solutions to the problem of crime and delinquency within the individual.  This model focuses on the need to change the individual in some way, whether this is in terms of their psychological development, their general attitudes, their world view and/or their behaviors.

Although I do not claim to have all the answers, after almost 40 years of studying and teaching about the subject of crime and delinquency I am convinced that some very fundamental changes need to be made in the way we live and think before we see any significant decrease in these problems.  We (and by “we” I mean adults) are always talking about the “problem of delinquency” or the “problem of youth” with such value laden statements like “what’s wrong with kids these days.”[60]  The implication is that youths in trouble need to change their attitudes, their behaviors, their life styles, their methods of thinking, etc.  It seems that it is always they who have to change. 

What is invariably included in this line of thinking is the use of labels to describe these youth (and adult offenders too).  The labels keep changing, along with changing times.  As Jerome Miller has noted, we began with “possessed” youths in the 17th century, moved to the “rabble” or “dangerous classes” in the 18th and late 19th centuries, the “moral imbeciles” and the “constitutional psychopathic inferiors” of the early 20th centuries.  We continued in the 20th century with the “psychopath” of the 1940s to the “sociopath” of the 1950s and finally to more recent labels like “compulsive delinquent,” the “learning disabled,” the “unsocialized aggressive” and even the “socialized aggressive” and finally the “bored” delinquent.  “With the growth of professionalism,” continues Miller, “the number of labels has multiplied exponentially.”[61] 

Miller continues by suggesting that the problem with these labels is that it seems to be a way “whereby we bolster the maintenance of the existing order against threats which might arise from its own internal contradictions.”  And it reassures us “that the fault lies in the warped offender and takes everyone else off the hook.  Moreover, it enables the professional diagnostician to enter the scene or withdraw at will, wearing success like a halo and placing failure around the neck of the client like a noose.”[62]  More importantly, we continue to believe that harsh punishment works, especially the kind of punishment that includes some form of incarceration, so that the offender is placed out of sight and, not coincidentally, out of mind.

            To simplify things, what I am suggesting here is a revolution not just in the way we frame the problem, that is, the paradigm we use, but also in the way our social and economic system operates.  What the prevailing paradigm does, in effect, is take offenders, place them under the guardianship of some program (often within the walls of a prison), and focus on changing them in some way.  Then we let them go, only to return to the same social circumstances that brought them into conflict with the law in the first place, never doing anything to change these circumstances.

Please do not misunderstand me here, for I am not saying that various “services” should not be provided for girl offenders.  The problem is that what we are doing with these “services” is kind of like providing someone with a skill in making something that no one wants or needs anymore (e.g., buggies pulled by horses).  Certainly programs should be in place to provide girls with methods of dealing with sexual abuse, relationships with males, etc. However, it is not nearly enough.  As everyone reading this knows, we are dealing with a revolving door, for as soon as we send an offender out the front door, several are lined up waiting to get in the back door.

            In my view, thinking “out of the box” about crime and delinquency must begin with a close look at the growing problem of inequality in our society.  The next section will focus briefly on this issue.


Confronting Inequality


This needs to be considered the most important issue of the day and not just because it is at the center of most American problems.  It is important simply because it does not correspond to what America should be about.  Back when the GI Bill was passed, it was a generally accepted principle that the highest tax rate should be applied to the richest people, with the highest rate reaching 90%.  One result is that the CEO of General Motors, Charles E. Wilson (who was famous for the line “What’s Good for General Motors is Good for America”) had a take home pay of about $586,100 (equal to about $4.5 million today), of which he paid $430,350 in taxes (73.4%).  In 2006, the CEO of General Motors (Rick Wagoner) took home about $10.2 million.  What he paid in taxes is not known, but last year those whose net income was more than $10 million paid only 20.9% in taxes.[63]

            One way of viewing this issue historically is to use the following two graphs.






As these two charts reveal, the post-World War II economic boom brought about a more equalization of wealth and income than ever before.  This period witnessed the rise of what we now call the “middle class,” hastened along by the huge distribution of benefits resulting from the New Deal, especially the G.I. Bill.[64]  I will return to the New Deal and G.I. Bill shortly.  Suffice it to say that this was a classic example of evening the playing field and how, with the help of the federal government, millions of Americans were able to achieve the “American Dream,” while corporate profits zoomed upward.

            Since the end of the 1970s, however, the situation has been reversed, aided by a growing conservative backlash, as politicians began during the Reagan years to cut taxes for the rich and launch an all-out attack on unions.  The result was a loss of union jobs by the thousands, while union membership went from a high of about 35% of the work force in the 1950s to less than 10% today.[65]  Wages have stagnated for the majority of workers and most of those who do work do not earn a “livable wage.”[66] Millions are saddled with huge debts as bankruptcies have reached an all-time high while savings rates have plummeted to their lowest ever.[67]

Meanwhile, also during the Reagan years there began an all-out attack on the poor and racial minorities in the form of a “war on drugs,” the result of which has been huge increases in the prison population as the rate of incarceration zoomed up by more than 500%.[68]  The effects of this war have been documented by numerous studies, including the fact more than 2 million children - disproportionately black - have at least one parent in prison.[69]  Adding to this is the fact that thousands of minority communities resemble Third World countries, with extremely high rates of unemployment and few good paying jobs.[70]  A walk around just about any inner-city will prove this.[71]  Here one can easily see the results of what has been called the “deindustrialization” of America as thousands of jobs have been shifted to Third World countries, leaving in its wake boarded up factory buildings and for sale signs. Another result has been what some have called the “feminization of poverty” as millions of minority women are living in poverty, taking care of children while the men in their lives have been targeted by the drug war and are now in prison.[72]

In my delinquency book, one chapter ends with a section called “The Death of Childhood in the Inner Cities.”  Here I talked about the city of Los Angeles which has been confronted with the results of deindustrialization.  I wrote the following:

The city of Los Angeles is not unlike many others in the country.  Its “skid row” areas are not unlike other large cities.  The failure of the “American Dream” to satisfy the needs and wants of people can be clearly seen in downtown Los Angeles, literally a stone’s throw from many symbols of wealth that are found in urban areas.  A recent story about the changes in LA’s skid row illustrates this.

            An article with the appropriate title of “Childhood Dies on Skid Row” reveals some stark statistics that just barely get to the heart of the problem.[73]  The author, the director of a human services organization called Social Model Recovery Systems Inc., notes that since 1990 the proportion of children found on LA’s skid row has gone from 1 percent to 15 percent, while the proportion of women has grown to one-third, up from about 18 percent.  These figures are from a just completed study at the University of Southern California.  The description of the scene provided by the author of this article is better than I could ever hope to provide:


Some of the children of skid row sleep on the streets with their families. Others live in dilapidated welfare hotels infested with rats and cockroaches. Entire families sleep in a small, single room intended for one person. Often there's no kitchen, and the bathroom is down the hall. Getting to school involves a two-hour bus ride, not to mention dealing with teachers and kids who don't understand that your clothes are dirty because there's no laundromat in your neighborhood.

Worst of all, the children of skid row are a captive audience, propositioned by sexual predators and exposed to the most degenerate forms of human behavior. They watch as paramedics extract yet another comatose individual from a portable toilet with a needle still sticking out of his arm. Used condoms and hypodermic needles litter the sidewalks where the children live and play.

The violence that most of us see only on TV is part of these children's daily lives. This summer, several of the children in our community witnessed the murder of a neighbor — a mother stabbed 17 times in broad daylight just outside the hotel where they live.


When disputes flare up, violence is the first resort. The children, who have nowhere else to go — no backyard or park or community center — are right in the line of fire. It is no wonder that so many of them anesthetize themselves with drugs and drown their sorrows with alcohol.


Speaking of poverty, recent studies have suggested that poverty among children remains unacceptably high, hovering around 17%, up from 14% back in 1969.[74]  This statistic is a national one that understates the problem, for in many cities the situation is far worse.  One recent report notes that in Newark, New Jersey, one-third of all children live in poverty.[75]  Not surprisingly, for black children the rate is much higher, at about one-third.[76]  The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development. That effect is on top of any damage caused by inadequate nutrition and exposure to environmental toxins.”  Despite some promising programs that are available, “the only way to remove the ‘toxic’ impact of poverty on young brains is to abolish poverty itself .”[77]

Yet it seems our only response is to arrest them and take them to the juvenile court, where they are all “held accountable” for their behavior.


Institutional Connections


Part of this thinking out of the box is the necessity of knowing the meaning and importance of the term social institution. Social institutions can be defined as a persistent set of organized methods of meeting basic human needs. There are relatively stable groups and organizations (complete with various norms and values, statuses, and roles) that the human needs to (1) adapt to the environment, (2) to mobilize resources to achieve collective goals, and (3) to socialize members to accept society’s fundamental normative patterns.[78] The most important of these institutions include (1) the economy, (2) the family, (3) schools, and (4) politics. Other important institutions include health care, media, religion, and the law (many would place law within the much larger political institution).

It is important to understand that when these institutions fail to provide the needs of the members of society (at least of a sizable proportion of the population), then alternative institutions will begin to develop—not the “institution” per se but different forms, or methods of meeting needs. For example, if the prevailing economic system is failing, more and more people will engage in alternative means of earning a living; if organized religion is not meeting such needs as answers to fundamental life questions, then people will seek out unorthodox religious forms (e.g., cults like the Branch Davidians or Heaven’s Gate); if the legal institution is not perceived as providing justice, then people may “take the law into their own hands”; and if the mainstream media provide too much disinformation and do not allow dissenting views, then alternative media emerge. This view is depicted in figure 1.  Although this diagram was originally used to describe the connection between gangs and institutions, we can apply it to other social problems.


Figure 1.  Institutional Connections

Can anyone honestly say that these institutions are working effectively to deal with America’s social problems?  Notice how they are all connected via the economic institution.  This is because the economy of any society is the most important institution as it is supposed to supply us with most of our most basic needs and wants.  When there is trouble here, it effects all the other institutions and each institution in turn affects, in some way, all the others.


What Should We Do?


            The short answer to this question would be that we need revolutionary changes and a total paradigm shift.  What I think is needed is what Paul Krugman has called a “New, New Deal.”[79] He suggests starting with universal health care and continuing onto job creation and other reform measures, just like FDR did with the original “New Deal.” Some have suggested instituting a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the inner cities.[80] Doing this requires reversing the trends begun during the Reagan years, which means reversing the tax cuts that have lined the pockets of the super rich.[81] 

Before anyone starts to wonder where the money will come from, in addition to reversing the tax cuts, I will refer you to a very special web site that documents the costs of the war in Iraq.[82] Also, I can refer you to a recent study by Chalmers Johnson, where he found that the “real” Pentagon budget is more than $1 trillion, since this includes all “defense-related” spending.  Moreover, the current debt is now in excess of $9 trillion, created largely by the invasion and occupation of Iraq.[83]

            If you are thinking that I am placing the burden of solving these problems on the government, you are only partly correct.  We will get the money to pay for all the changes that are needed from tax dollars, not the government.  And what this means is that we are getting the money from the people of this country, based upon the principle that “I am my brother’s keeper” and we all need to share what we earn for the “common good.”  After all, this is supposed to be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  Raising the share of taxes paid by corporations would certainly help.  One recent study noted that “corporate income tax revenues fell to $132 billion in 2003, down 36 percent from $207 billion in 2000.”[84] A Wall Street Journal report notes that, according to the IRS, “the Fortunate 400 now control 1.15% of the nation’s income — twice the share they controlled in 1995. Over the same period, however, the average income tax paid by this same group has fallen from 30% to 18%. That’s due mainly to the Bush tax cuts.”[85]

            As I already suggested, before we can begin to address all of the needs of girls, we need to address the needs of their families, communities and in fact the entire society.  I regret that I do not have a specific “game plan” (to borrow a sports term) nor do I have any concrete suggestions on how all of this can be accomplished.  However, I would like to close with some words that might serve as a guide.  The following parable originated with the famous social reformer and agitator of the early 20th century, Saul Alinsky.[86] Imagine a large river with a high waterfall.  At the bottom of this waterfall hundreds of people are working frantically trying to save those who have fallen into the river and have fallen down the waterfall, many of them drowning.  As the people along the shore are trying to rescue as many as possible one individual looks up and sees a seemingly never-ending stream of people falling down the waterfall and he begins to run upstream.  One of his fellow rescuers hollers “Where are you going?  There are so many people that need help here.”  To which the man replied, “I’m going upstream to find out why so many people are falling into the river.”

Now imagine the scene at the bottom of the waterfall represents the criminal justice system, responding to crimes that have been committed and dealing with both victims and offenders. If you look more closely, you will begin to notice that there are more people at the bottom of the stream, that they work in relatively new buildings with all sorts of modern technology and that those working here get paid rather well, with excellent benefits.  And the money keeps flowing into this area, with all sorts of businesses lined up to provide various services and technical assistance.  If you look upstream, you will find something far different.  There are not too many people, the buildings are not as modern, nor are the technology that they use.  The people working there do not get paid very much and their benefits are not as good as those provided down below, while the turnover is quite high. Neither do they find businesses coming their way with assistance.  They constantly have to beg for money. 

Some people choose to respond to problems related to crime and delinquency by working downstream.  This is certainly a noble goal and good people are always needed.  As for me, I picture myself as being one who is constantly running upstream, asking “why?” Which way you want to go is up to you.  You just have to be able to look yourself in the mirror each day and be able to say “I tried.” 

A lot of work lies ahead.





[1]  All of this information is taken from the most recent Juvenile Court Statistics, available on line at:


[2] See Sourcebook on Criminal Justice Statistics:


[3]  For further discussion see Shelden, R. G. Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in America.  Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, chapter 10.


[4]  Beyond Bad Girls: Gender, Violence and Hype.  New York: Routledge, 2008, p. 183.


[5]  Ibid, p. 9.


[6] Juvenile Court Statistics, 2003-2004.  Studies from individual states provide additional evidence of these trends.  See this study in Illinois:


[7]  For details see Chesney-Lind, M. and R. G. Shelden.  Girls, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice (3rd ed.).  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2004, chapter 7.


[8] Costello, J. C., and N. L. Worthington (1981-82). “Incarcerating Status Offenders: Attempts to Circumvent the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 16, p. 42.  For further discussion see Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in America, chapter 13.


[9] Human Rights Watch (2006). “Custody and Control Conditions of Confinement in New York’s Juvenile Prisons for Girls.” On-line, retrieved on January 27, 2008


[10]  For a review of this literature, see Chesney-Lind and Shelden, Girls, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice, chapters 7 and 9.


[11] Mayer J. (1994).   Girls in the Maryland juvenile justice system: Findings of the female population taskforce.  Presentation to the Gender Specifics Services Training,  Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The author became familiar with a case in Las Vegas where a 16-year-old girl was in juvenile court on a charge of “assault” that resulted from a confrontation with her mother inside the home one night.  No weapon was used and there were no injuries.  In the courtroom the girl stood in front of the judge (who was particularly stern) crying and not understanding what was going on.  She was being asked to make a plea and after the judge finally explained the difference between “no contest” and “guilt and innocence” she pleaded not guilty since she strongly felt that she did not do anything wrong.  As I watched the proceedings, I thought of David Matza’s description of juvenile court proceedings in a book written about 40 years ago that described in great detail the difficulties children usually have in understanding court juvenile court procedures (Matza, Delinquency and Drift, John Wiley, 1964).  It also made me think about the often absurd and meaningless terms like “assault” and “violent crime.”  I also wonder how many more cases like these end up being labeled “assault” and even worse become lumped together as “violent crimes.”  The girl in this case was placed on probation and the charges were eventually dropped.


[12] Acoca, L. (1999). “Investing in Girls: A 21st Century Challenge.”  Juvenile Justice 6, p. 8.


[13] It should be noted at this time that despite what this research, recent statistics have identified the rising use of detention with girls and the disproportionate representation of girls of color in detention. These issues are discussed at length in Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 2004, chapter 7.

[14] Chesney-Lind, M. and K. Irwin (2008).  “Still the ‘Best Place to Conquer Girls’: Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.”  In Shelden, R. G. and D. Macallair (eds.), Juvenile Justice in America: Problems and Prospects.  Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.


[15] For a more complete discussion see Chesney-Lind and Irwin, Beyond Bad Girls and Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in America.


[16] Beyond Bad Girls, p. 7.


[17]  Ibid, p. 9.  For a more detailed discussion of school policies see Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in America, chapter 10.


[18]  For further discussion of the growth of the crime control industry see the following: “It's More Profitable to Treat the Disease than to Prevent it: Why the Prison Industrial Complex Needs Crime,”; “Crime-Control Industry.”  In Gregg Barak (ed.), Battleground Criminal Justice (Vol. 1). Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.


[19] Girls Incorporated (1996). Prevention and Parity: Girls in Juvenile Justice. Indianapolis: Girls Incorporated National Resource Center.


[20]  American Association for University Women (AAUW). (1992). How Schools Are Shortchanging Girls. Washington, DC: AAUW Educational Foundation.


[21]  Ms. Foundation for Women, National Girls Initiative.  (1993). Programmed Neglect, Not Seen, Not Heard: Report on Girls Programming in the United States.  New York, NY:  Ms. Foundation for Women.  More recent information is found in Chesney-Lind and Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice and Chesney-Lind and Irwin, Beyond Bad Girls.


[22]  Chesney-Lind and Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice and Chesney-Lind and Irwin, Beyond Bad Girls.


[23] Chesney-Lind and Shelden, Girls, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice, chapter 11.  This chapter provides more detail about programs for girls, only a small proportion of which are discussed here.


[24]  Schwartz, I. and F. Orlando (eds.) (1991).  Programming for Young Women in the Juvenile Justice System. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for the Study of Youth Policy.


[25] Shelden, R. G. (1999). “Detention Diversion Advocacy: an Evaluation.”  OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin (September). ( 


[26] Macallair, D. “Disposition Case Advocacy in San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice System: A New Approach to Deinstitutionalization.” Crime and Delinquency 40: 84 (1984).


[27] Moxley, R. (1989).  Case Management.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, p. 11. 


[28]  Ibid, p.  21.


[29] Feldman, L. B. and C. E. Jubrin. Evaluation Findings: The Detention Diversion Advocacy Program Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington, DC: Center for Excellence in Municipal Management, George Washington University, 2002.


[30] Shelden, R. G. (1998). “The Detention Diversion Advocacy Project and Girls.”



[31]  Fox, J. (1996). Trends in Juvenile Violence: A Report for the U.S. Attorney General on Current and Future Rates of Juvenile Offending. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Zimring, F. 1998. American Youth Violence. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 208.


[32] For additional information on Children of the Night, see their web site:  


[33] The following information is taken from their web site: More detailed descriptions of the programs mentioned here are found within this web site.


[34] Smith, C. and S. D. Kennedy. 1991. “Final Impact Evaluation of the Friendly PEERsuasion Program of Girls Incorporated.” Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates; Weiss, F. L. and H. J. Nicholson. “Friendly PEERsuasion Against Substance Abuse: The Girls Incorporated Model and Evaluation.” In J. Valentine, J. A. DeJong, and N. J. Kennedy (eds.). 1998. Substance Abuse Prevention in Multicultural Communities. New York, NY: Haworth Press.


[35] Postrado, L. T. and H. J. Nicholson. 1992. “Effectiveness in Delaying the Initiation of Sexual Intercourse of Girls Aged 12–14: Two Components of the Girls Incorporated Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy Program.” Youth and Society 23(3):356–79.


[36] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (1994). What Works: Promising Interventions in Juvenile Justice. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 5.


[37] Irvine, A. 2005. Girls’ Circle: Summary of Outcomes for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System. Santa Cruz, CA: Ceres Policy Research.  More information can be found on the following web site:


[38] Williams, K., G. D. Curry, and M. I. Cohen. 1999. Evaluation of Youth Gang Drug Intervention/Prevention Programs for Female Adolescents Volume 1: Final Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.


[39] Olds, D. L. et al. 1998. “The Promise of Home Visitation: Results of Two Randomized Trials.” Journal of Community Psychology 26(1):5–21; Olds, D L. et al. 2002. “Home Visiting by Paraprofessionals and by Nurses: A Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Pediatrics 110(3):486–96; Olds, D L. et al. 2004. “Effects of Home Visits by Paraprofessional and by Nurses: Age 4 Follow-Up Results of a Randomized Trial.” Pediatrics 114(6):1560–68.


[40] Grant, T. M., C. C. Ernst, A. P. Streissguth, and P. D. Sampson. 1999. “Intervention with High-Risk Alcohol- and Drug-Abusing Mothers: 3-Year Findings from the Seattle Model of Paraprofessional Advocacy.” Journal of Community Psychology 27(1):19–38.


[41] Sanders, L. M., C. Trinh, B. R. Sherman, and S.M. Banks. 1998. “Assessment of Client Satisfaction in a Peer Counseling Substance Abuse Treatment Program for Pregnant and Postpartum Women.” Evaluation and Programming Planning 21(3):287–96; Sherman, B. R., L. M. Sanders, and J. Yearde. 1998. “Role-Modeling Healthy Behavior: Peer Counseling for Pregnant and Postpartum Women in Recovery.” Women’s Health Issues 8(4):230–38.


[42] Berg, M. J. 2000. Urban Women Against Substance Abuse, Final Report. Hartford CT: Institute for Community Research.


[43]  The federal budget proposed for fiscal 2009 is more than $2.8 trillion.  See the following web site for details:


[44] One study found that about 75% of workers in this country did not earn a “livable wage.” See the following:


[45]  Numerous studies have documented this.  See the following, for examples: Krugman, P. (2007).  The Conscience of a Liberal.  New York: WW Norton; Ehrenreich, B. (2001).  Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  New York: Henry Holt; Perrucci, R. and E. Wysong (2003). The New Class Society, 2nd ed. New York: Roman and Littlefield; Phillips, K. (2002).  Wealth and Democracy.  New York: Broadway Books; Collins, C., B. Leondar-Wright, and H. Sklar (1999).  Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap.  Boston: United for a Fair Economy; Heintz et al. (2000). Heintz, J., N. Folbre and the Center for Popular Economics (2000).  The Ultimate Field Guide to the U. S. Economy.  New York: The New Press; Collins, C. and F. Yeskel (2000).  Economic Apartheid in America.  New York: The New Press.


[46]   Eckholm, E. (2007). “Surge Seen in Number of Homeless Veterans.” New York Times, November 8.


[47]  The trillion dollar figure comes from an excellent source.  See Johnson, C. (2008). “How to Sink America.”


[48] Figures on criminal justice expenditures are taken from the Sourcebook on Criminal Justice Statistics.


[49]  As for stock ownership, 10% of the population has about 80% of the value of all stocks. Also, the richest 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90% of the population.  Also, just over 85% of the stock market gains between 1989 and 1997 went to about 10% of the population:


[50] Ciaazza, A., A. Shaw and M. Werschkul (2005). The Status of Women in the United States.  Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


[51]  US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.  “Occupational  Employment and Wages, 2006.”


[52]  Parents Without Partners.; see also Statistical Abstract of the US,


[53] Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2002). “Children in Single-Parent Families Living in Poverty Have Fewer Supports After Welfare Reform.”


[54] Statistical Abstract of the US,


[55] Bonczar, T. P. (2003).  “Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, August.


[56] For more information see Kids Data Bank at and especially a recent report from the Children’s Defense Fund called America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline Report


[57]  Hanh, T. N. 1991.  Peace is Every Step.  New York: Bantam Books, p. 78. 


[58]  Ibid, pp. 97-98.


[59]  Published by the University of Chicago Press and subsequently revised in 1970.


[60]  For an excellent discussion of one aspect of this issue see Sternheimer, K. (2006). Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today’s Youth. New York: Rowan and Littlefield.


[61]  Miller, J. (1998).  Last One Over the Wall (2nd ed.).  Columbus: Ohio State University Press, p. 234.


[62] Ibid.


[63]  Pizzigati, S. (2007). “Massive Inequality is Unexamined Fault Line Behind GM Walk-Out.” The Progressive Populist, November 1,  pp. 10-11.


[64]   Humes, E. (2006). Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream.  New York: Harcourt.


[65] U.S. Census Bureau, Labor Union Membership, by Sector.


[66] Goldin, C. and L. F. Katz (2007).  “Long-Run Changes in the U. S. Wage Structure: Narrowing, Widening, Polarizing.” Washington, DC: Brookings Panel on Economic Activity.


[67]  Weston, L. P. (2007). “Bankruptcy filings soaring again.”  MSN Money.; Schroeder, R.  (2007). “Home prices boosting U.S. household debt: Kohn.” Market Watch.


[68]  Details on this increase can be viewed on a special page of my web site:


[69]  Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in American Society, chapter 9.


[70]  For current figures broken down by race and sex, see Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007). “Employment status of the civilian population by race, sex, and age.”


 [71]  Here’s a description of Rochester, New York by Mike Males: “I spent two spring days walking Rochester’s formerly prosperous neighborhoods, once well fed by its chief employer, Eastman Kodak, and other topside industries. On North St. Paul sits the 10-story Bausch & Lomb plant, abandoned, windows broken. From the bridge, vacant, silent factories flank the roaring Genesee River. To the right is the Kodak Tower, where corporate cutbacks chopped the labor force from 65,000 in past heydays to fewer than 30,000 today. Rochester’s north and westside formerly-working-class neighborhoods are shabby. In another decade they will fall into the bombed-out look of Camden, Baltimore, Richmond, and Philadelphia. It is mostly a white city, one-sixth black. Among black youths, poverty has risen from 31 percent in 1970 to 48 percent today. Among white youth, poverty tripled from 8 percent in 1970 to 22 percent now.” Males, M. (1999). Framing Youth: Ten Myths about the Next Generation. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, p. 183.  For an excellent discussion of the devastation of the inner cities in the 1980s and early 1990s see the following: Wilson, J. W. (1987). The Truly Disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press and Wilson, J. W. (1996). When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor.  New York: Vintage Books.


[72]  A more detailed discussion, with numerous references, can be found in Shelden, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice in American Society, chapter 8.

[73] Cardenas, Z. (2004). “Childhood Dies on Skid Row.”  Los Angeles Times, December 18.

[74] Krugman, P. (2008). “Poverty is Poison.”  New York Times, February 18. 


[75]  Jacobs, A. (2007). “Statistics on Children in Newark: Grim, With a Ray of Hope.”  New York Times, December 20.


[76]  Children’s Defense Fund (2005). Greenbook, 2005: Chapter 1, Family, Income and Jobs.  For other publications from this source see:


[77] Cookson, C. (2008). “Poverty Mars Formation of Brain.” Financial Times (London), February 16.


[78] Messner, S. and R. Rosenfeld (2001). Crime and the American Dream (3rd ed.) pp. 62–65.


[79] Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal See also Dodd, R. (2008). “Politically Incorrect Solutions: What About a New Deal-Style Jobs Program?” Dollars and Sense, April 16.

[80] “LA Needs a Marshall Plan to Stop Gangs.”   Jan. 13, 2007;Bischof, G.  “Katrina Journal: What We Need Is a Marshall Plan in Reverse.”  History News Network, October 17, 2005.; Pogrebin, R. (2007). “Rebuilding New Orleans, Post-Katrina Style.” New York Times, November 6. Named after the Secretary of State George Marshall, this was officially called the “European Recovery Program” that aimed at rebuilding much of Europe through economic aid from the United States.  Part of the plan included helping Japan rebuild.  For more details see the following web site:


[81]  Kamin, D. and I. Shapiro (2004). “Studies Shed New Light on Effects of Administration’s Tax Cuts.” Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, September 13.


[82]  Here’s the web site:


[83]  See the following web sites , and


[84] Friedman, J. (2003). “The Decline of Corporate Income Tax Revenues.”  Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 24.; see also Ackman, D. (2004). “U.S. Corporations Paying Less in Taxes.” Forbes (September 23).   This story noted that a “study released yesterday by Citizens for Tax Justice and the affiliated Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that in 2003 alone, 46 of the 275 companies it reviewed paid no taxes at all in 2003, despite reporting a total of $42.6 billion in pre-tax profits. Indeed, these companies received $5.4 billion in tax rebates that year. In the last three years, 82 of the country's largest profitable corporations paid no federal income tax for at least one year of the Bush administration's first three years, the study found.” Another study found that “Federal revenue from corporate taxes has fallen from 6.4 percent of gross domestic product, the nation's output of goods and services, in 1951 to a mere 1.5 percent to 2 percent of GDP in the last few years.” Francis, D. R. (2005). “As Corporate Taxes Shrink, Who Pays?”  Christian Science Monitor (March 14):  

[85] “Incomes for Super Rich Grow Faster Than Their Taxes.”  Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2008.


[86]  This is reported in Bartollas, C. (2003). Juvenile Delinquency.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon, p. 354.