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OJJDP News @ a Glance

This issue highlights program site visits by OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan, virtual reality tools connecting incarcerated parents with their kids, OJJDP’s support of programs designed for girls, and one young person’s plans to reach the White House.
Message From the Administrator: Justice-Involved Youth Face Unexpected, Damaging Outcomes
OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan - News @ a Glance

OJJDP’s Ongoing Support for Programs Designed To Address Girls’ Unique Needs

Stock photo of a small group of young people seen in silhouette during sunset

Renisha* spent much of her childhood in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services—her mother struggled with severe mental health issues and could not give Renisha the care and guidance she needed. When not in state custody, Renisha often moved from one friend’s house to another. As a teen, she was arrested for illegal possession of a handgun and aggravated assault with a firearm. Now 18, she spent the last school year juggling 12th grade classes, a job, and caring for her 3-year-old son, splitting time between a friend’s house, her stepmother’s, and her son’s grandmother’s house.

Justice-involved girls “often have needs that are uniquely complex due to their gender,” says Ryan Hill, development director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), which serves as the public defender for youth in Orleans Parish and provides social work support to youth in East Baton Rouge Parish. Justice-involved girls suffer higher rates of family conflict and abuse than boys, and are more likely to become teen parents or fall prey to sex traffickers, he says. Girls like Renisha—with neither stable family relationships nor a place to call home—are especially vulnerable.

OJJDP Programs Focused on Girls

OJJDP has supported programs focused on girls for decades.

In the 1990s, rising trends led the Office to call for more girl-focused research on delinquency prevention and intervention. In 2004, OJJDP convened the multidisciplinary Girls Study Group. In fiscal year (FY) 2010, the Office funded the launch of the National Girls Institute, which became the National Girls Initiative in FY 2014, seeking to strengthen networks and develop programs that support systemic improvements for girls.

OJJDP introduced the Reducing Risk for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System initiative in FY 2020. Between FYs 2020 and 2022, the program awarded 25 grants totaling more than $11.5 million.

OJJDP funding enabled LCCR “to significantly expand” Brighter Futures, a program targeting girls in Orleans and East Baton Rouge Parishes who have been assigned a public defender, Mr. Hill says. Each girl has a support team—a defense attorney, social worker, youth advocate, investigator, and when necessary, a civil attorney. Renisha’s team helped her enroll in high school online so she could be home to care for her son. They also helped her find childcare for work hours, provided transportation to appointments, and helped secure copies of her birth certificate, Social Security card, and state identification card.

Renisha is now a high school graduate with a steady job. Brighter Futures has closed her case.

Brighter Futures receives OJJDP funding under the Reducing Risk for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System initiative, which supports community efforts to serve girls age 17 and younger. Funded programs approach services through a gender lens, attentive to the unique needs of girls and young women involved in—or at risk for involvement in—the juvenile justice system. With fewer girls incarcerated (see sidebar), programs increasingly emphasize community-based services, according to OJJDP Program Manager Christine Ramirez.

In Roanoke, VA, Total Action for Progress (TAP) used OJJDP funding to launch Girls United, which concentrates on girls in Title I middle and high schools who have a history of delinquency or are at high risk for it. Program participants typically come from homes touched by substance use disorders, mental health issues, or domestic violence. Many girls are in the foster care system; others are housed in detention centers, says Jo Nelson, a TAP program director. All of them are at “extreme risk” for substance use disorders, domestic violence or assault, teen pregnancy, homelessness, gun violence, and a host of other dangers.

Girls United is the only girl-centered program of its kind in Roanoke. Girls receive weekly one-to-one support and meet in peer groups twice weekly. Sessions emphasize personal development, addressing topics such as mindfulness, handling conflict, life skills, and recognizing inappropriate relationships.

“We work to show them that they are unique and perfect within themselves, and teach them appropriate relationship skills, methods of communication, self-empowerment, and self-worth,” Ms. Nelson says. “Above all, we provide girls with a safe space to express their thoughts without being judged or frowned upon.”

* “Renisha” is a pseudonym.

Number of Incarcerated Girls Continues To Fall

The percentage of girls in residential placement has remained relatively stable since 1997, totaling between 13.3 and 15.2 percent of those detained. But the number of incarcerated girls has decreased by 62 percent—from 14,284 in 1997, to 9,434 in 2010, to 5,415 in 2019. This corresponds with a 65-percent drop in the overall number of incarcerated youth (male and female): from 105,055 in 1997 to 36,479 in 2019.

In 2020, girls accounted for 29 percent of youth arrests overall, a drop from 31 percent in 2019. Girls were disproportionately overrepresented in several offense categories in 2019, including liquor law violations (42 percent of youth arrests), larceny-theft (40 percent), and disorderly conduct (37 percent). In other categories, girls were disproportionately underrepresented, including murder (11 percent of all youth arrests), robbery (12 percent), and burglary (14 percent).

Date Created: June 21, 2023