Gender-Neutrality, Gender Stereotypes and Juvenile Justice Policy

Arden M. Smelser, York University

ABSTRACT
Gender-neutral policies do not attend to the needs of female young offenders. Notions of equality, which are highly entrenched in the juvenile justice system, provide the basis for a gender-neutral language in the policies themselves. As a result, programming in residential services is developed without girls in mind, despite research that suggests that boys and girls have very different experiences and needs. Without guidelines as to what programs should require in order to meet girls' needs, juvenile justice practitioners are left to rely on their own ideas and stereotypes about gender which are often negative. This paper represents a case study of a co-educational facility for young offenders to investigate how gender-neutrality inherent in policies that govern young offender services influence gender stereotypes employed by residential counsellors. Through an analysis of the documents that guide the programming of the residence and interviews with eight residential counsellors, it was found that gender-neutral policies inform gender-neutral programming negating the needs of girls. Workers constructed their opinions of girls based on gender stereotypes. The amelioration of this problem depends on the rethinking of the notions of equality and gender-neutrality in policies such that difference does not represent dominance. Policies that no longer view the male as referent, would not only attend to girls' specific needs but also provide workers with greater knowledge of girls' experiences so a reliance on gender stereotypes will no longer be as likely.

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Updated 05/20/2006