Life Histories of Girls Sentenced to Adult Prison

Emily Gaarder, Arizona State University
Joanne Belknap, University of Colorado - Boulder

In the last decade, there has been a nation-wide effort to process and incarcerate delinquent youth as adults. There are tremendous gaps in our theories. and knowledge about girls and crime, particularly for this group of offenders deemed so serious as to justify adult sentencing. To date, there have been no studies focusing exclusively on the lives, past or present of girls in adult prisons. This paper examiner, the life histories of girls who have been adjudicated as adults and are currently serving tune in an adult women's prison. This research is based on in-depth interviews with 22 young women incarcerated in a medium-security women's prison in the Midwest. We describe how the young women in this sample became involved in crime, resulting in their eventual processing as adult criminals. This includes discussion of their childhood experiences, family background, sexual and physical victimization, racism, economics, school experiences, chemical use, and structural dislocation. Based upon previous scholarship on girls and crime, we also consider whether the life histories or "pathways to offending" for the girls in this sample differ significantly from delinquent girls who remain in the juvenile justice, system.

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Updated 05/20/2006