November 23, 2016

From Pam Patton, State and National Liaison Coalition of Advocates for Equal Access for Girls

The Coalition’s Goal

The Coalition of Advocates for Equal Access for Girls (Coalition) received a one-year grant (4/2016 – 3/2017) from the National Girls Initiative for a project to set the foundation for change in Oregon’s Juvenile Justice System for girls. The Coalition’s project goal is to begin the process of integrating a trauma-informed and gender-responsive approach into the full juvenile justice continuum, with a focus on initial contact and intake. The Coalition believes that Oregon’s Juvenile Justice System does not adequately identify or address, particularly at the earlier points in the continuum, the trauma experiences in girls’ lives that research shows lead to problem behaviors bringing them to the attention of juvenile justice. As reported in recent studies of girls in the juvenile justice system we know that “. . . despite the body of research showing that the effect of trauma and abuse drives girls into juvenile justice, the system itself typically overlooks the context of abuse and trauma when determining whether to arrest or charge a girl, often with a minor offense.” (The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story).

Working Towards Change

The research is clear, girls in the juvenile justice system differ greatly from boys. The lack of a trauma-informed perspective with girls at any point on the continuum of the juvenile justice system is a serious shortcoming, particularly at the beginning stages. Fundamentally, experts agree that crime for girls is an expression of trauma and in turn leads to a system with inadequate, inappropriate, and many times delayed interventions.  Stated another way, the Oregon Juvenile Justice System is asking the wrong questions when dealing with girls entering, at-risk of entering, or in their system. They focus on the problem behavior, what the girl did wrong, and don’t look at what’s happening for the girl or what her life experiences are. By focusing on criminogenic risk for recidivism as the determinant of entry or referrals, they are not only missing the mark for but impacting the decision making of how timely appropriate trauma-informed, gender-responsive interventions should look and be delivered to girls. The System must change and we hope this is the beginning!