When Research Makes Sense: The Advantages of Practitioner-Informed Research on Delinquent Girls

Joanne Belknap, University of Colorado - Boulder
Bonnie K. Cady, Colorado Division of Youth Corrections
F. Jerald Adamek, FNF Associates, Inc.

Both studies of and responses to delinquent youth in the United States were almost exclusively male-specific until the1980s. That is, until recently, with few exceptions, it was assumed that delinquent was synonymous with male. The increase in both feminist scholars and feminist professionals working with delinquent girls since the 1970's has resulted in unprecedented pressure to examine the processing and treatment of delinquent girls (see Belknap, 2001; Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 1998; Daly & Chesney-Lind, 1988). A recent report by OJJDP asks "What about the Girls?" (Budnick, 1998). This report documents the nationwide problem of the increasing numbers of delinquent girls, but also addresses the challenge across the U.S. in the "demand for comprehensive needs assessments that identify gaps in the provision of services for girls" (Budnick, 1998, p.2).

In 1992 there was a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA) (the 1974 act was designed to de-institutionalize status offenders). A significant aspect of this reauthorization was that the U.S. Congress heard and understood some of the concerns raised by some professionals who work with delinquent girls, that the existing program was insufficient for delinquent girls' needs (Belknap, 2001). These professionals were convincing in their presentation of the existing programs as designed for boys, and even then, often unavailable for girls. Hence the 1992 Reauthorization of the1974 JJDPA birthed the current focus on identifying and implementing the "gender-specific needs" of delinquent girls. The1992 Reauthorization legislation provided that each state should (1) determine the need for and assessment of existing services and treatment for delinquent girls, (2) develop a plan to provide needed gender-specific services for the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency, and (3) provide assurance that youth in the juvenile system are treated fairly regarding their mental, physical, and emotional capabilities, as well as on the basis of their gender, race, and family income (Belknap et al.,1997). To this end, states across the U.S. have been receiving federal monies in attempts to attend to the three provisions outlined in the 1992 Reauthorization of the JJDPA. Most of this work is in progress, so it is too early to make conclusive statements.

Practitioners were key in testifying before the U.S. Congress to convince them of the need for the 1992 Re-Authorization. However, to our knowledge, professionals who work daily with delinquent and at-risk girls, have not been "allowed" to play a significant role in the research on delinquent girls, including the "gender-specific" programming research called for in the 1992 OJJDP Act.

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Updated 05/20/2006