For many, the term juvenile delinquent likely conjures up images of groups of young men standing on street corners, wearing baggy clothes, and boasting defiant attitudes. However, some may be surprised to learn that the face of the juvenile delinquent is swiftly changing. While boys are responsible for the majority of juvenile crime overall, the number of juvenile females involved with the justice system has been steadily increasing over the past three decades (Gross 84). Of greatest concern is the context of the crimes being committed by juvenile girls, as arrest rates have increased most in the area of violent offenses. In response to this emerging trend, juvenile justice professionals are increasingly advocating for gender specific intervention and rehabilitation models to deter further delinquency involvement. This effort is rooted in investigating the risk factors for criminal behavior among adolescent females, and the compound effect multiple risk factors may illicit.
Between 1991 and 2000, arrest rates for girls increased more than arrests for boys, and by 2004 girls accounted for 30 percent of all juveniles taken into custody. Researchers have yet to establish if this trend is representative of a quantifiable increase in female juvenile crime, or if social attitudes and law enforcement response to girl’s delinquency have influenced the increase (Zahn, “Causes” 1-3). Juvenile crime overall has been declining since reaching its peak in the late 1990’s, yet the rates of girls have not experienced the same rate of decline when compared to boys.
The context of the crimes being committed by adolescent girls has been most dramatically impacted in the areas of both aggravated and simple assault. While boys still represent the greatest number of arrests for these offenses, the number of girls arrested for simple assault has more than tripled since 1980. By 2005, girls were responsible for one-quarter of all juvenile arrests for aggravated assault, demonstrating an increase of 94 percent over the past three decades (Gross 84; Zahn, “Violence” 4). Investigating the root causes behind the increase of violent behavior in girls and its correlation to delinquency is essential to the development of effective prevention tools.
Dr. Bruce Gross, PhD, notes 40 developmental assets whose presence strongly influences the likelihood of delinquency. Gross identifies these assets as internal values such as self-esteem and conflict resolution skills, and external values such as healthy support systems and constructive use of time. The degree to which these assets were present or absent were found to be directly related to the likelihood of delinquent involvement, and the more assets a child possessed the less likely they were to be involved with problematic or risky behavior. Family support alone stood out as an accurate predictor of delinquency, and adolescent girls in detention facilities typically report dysfunctional family environments and...