Although the incidence of male offenses is for more numerous than that of female offenses, it may be seen from Table 1 that in the span of 10 years from 1983 to 1993, the number of female youth arrests increased by 3 percent. In those same years, violent crime arrests of female juveniles increased to 55 percent while males increased only 33 percent. (Peters, 2004) (See Figure 1) Thus the need for programs and policies that will address the steady increase in female offenders must be addressed. Various states, Florida and California in particular, have done extensive research and program institutionalization to address this need.
Child development experts, lawyers, psychologists and social scientists have all collaborated in producing meaningful and relevant research data to formulate responsive and specific programs for female offenders. Gender as a concept and perspective has been adopted by some states to address the special needs of girls. Using a gender lens and knowledge on gender-sensitivity, research has been able to provide gender-specific information on the situation of young girls at risk for entering and those currently in the system.
Researches have shown that girls’ needs have a personal and more intimate perspective than that of young boys’. It was found that girls have the following needs (Peters, 2004): 1. Physical safety, security and healthy development 2. Love, respect, warmth, trust from primary sources of care (i. e. parents, relatives, home environment) 3. Positive female role models 4. Timely and safe development of sexuality 5. Sense of belonging, kinship, friendship and identification with other female youth
The findings presented above have been known to have a great impact on the cognitive development of female youth and are critical in the formation of normal, healthy and competent girls. However, the lack of these factors in the development of a female youth may lead to higher potential for offense and arrest. Lack of these key developmental factors is tied to several risk factors that also increase the potential for offense and arrest. Research has also shown that most female offenders have experienced several risk factors before offenses and entry into the system.
Risk factors for female youth offense are (Peters, 2004): 1. Abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, psychological) 2. Substance abuse 3. Teenage pregnancy and parenting 4. Poor academic performance 5. Mental Health problems 6. Family instability and conflict Before the availability and conduction of the researches that specifically-aimed to address the needs of female juvenile delinquents were present, rehabilitation workers and staff experienced difficulty in handling female offenders.
Often, girls would exhibit whining, manipulation and alternative forms of lashing out at their caregivers and fellow juveniles. Couple this difficulty with the increase in the number of females entering the juvenile justice system and the similarities in their previous situations, gender-specific programming and policy-formulation has been a major direction that research, consultations, legislation and state processes have taken.