Do Girls in the Juvenile Justice System Commit More Drug Crimes?

Posted by Sue Dee

Jul 12, 2016 11:00:00 AM

Proportion of females arrested for drug crimes higher than males

There has been some good news and statistics in the juvenile-justice world recently. One is that juvenile-drug arrests fell to about 112,100 in 2014, down from 200,000 14 years earlier.

However, examining this stat more closely finds something disturbing. Call them girls, young women, females, whatever you prefer, they are now accounting for a larger percentage of juvenile drug arrests than their male counterparts. Also worrisome is, writes Jeffrey A. Butts of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in a recent brief, “the growing proportion of females among juvenile drug arrests was seen among arrests for drug manufacturing and sales as well as arrests for simple drug possession.”


So, what is going on? Many of these young women are girls of color, living in poverty, with a poor education and often victims of physical and sexual abuse. They get little support from the community. As the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) points out, “They are typically nonviolent and pose little or no risk to public safety. And their involvement with the juvenile justice system usually does more harm than good.” 

One study even found that well-intentioned judges throw abused young women from traumatic backgrounds into the system to “protect” them.

The OJJDP is urging for the reduction of reliance on out-of-home placement. Instead, it calls for “a national commitment to creating healthy social environments with family, peers, community, social institutions, and society.”

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recommendations

The OJJDP has issued a “call to action.” This includes

  • Prohibiting throwing girls with status and minor sex-trafficking offenses into the juvenile-justice system
  • Finding alternatives to detention and incarceration for girls who are of little or no risk to public safety
  • Creating opportunities “through healthy social environments across family, peers, community, social institutions, and society. Gender- and culturally-responsive, trauma-informed, and developmentally appropriate services must become the norm and not the exception 
  • Identifying programs and services that can keep young women from entering the juvenile-justice system

Certainly, Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is one program that has proven successful in preventing boys and girls from entering the juvenile-justice system and getting them out if they are already in it. One of the priorities of MST is education, making sure juveniles stay and flourish in school. This, too, is a priority of the OJJDP.

“When girls are limited in their access to education and treatment, or when their numbers increase in the juvenile justice system relative to boys...we are often not supporting them or providing them with the tools they need to become successful adults.” 

To find out how MST is a proven treatment for drug abusing teens, download this white paper.

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Topics: Substance Abuse