Addressing the Unique Needs of Minority Female Juvenile Offenders Through Gender Specific and Cultural Programming as Alternatives to Incarceration

Vemezia Michalsen, CUNY Graduate Center

The gendered division of offenders in the American juvenile system is changing. Girls' involvement in criminal activity is increasing, they are entering the system at younger ages, and minorities are disproportionately represented. Research on female juvenile offenders is scarce, but issues such as race, childhood trauma, pregnancy, substance abuse, poverty and academic failure arise in many studies. These observations suggest that we must pay more attention to female minority juveniles as a subgroup. This paper will discuss girls' offending and examine in particular the potentials of alternatives to incarceration for these offenders which focus on their specific circumstances. This paper will focus on programs which combine gender specific and cultural progamming for minority female offenders. Gender specific programs comprehensively address the special needs of a particular gender group, providing services which cultivate self confidence, assertiveness, relationship-building, future orientation, and a connection with family and the community. Cultural programming integrates knowledge of and sensitivity to the cultural background of participants into program practices to encourage self esteem and a sense of relevance. This paper will show how the U.S. juvenile justice system inadequately serves females, minorities and juveniles, and how these alternative programs adequately approach this population and its unique needs.

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Updated 05/20/2006