Female and Male Juvenile Offenders with Disabilities: Differences in the Barriers to Their Transition to the Community

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This article examined differences between young women and men who were incarcerated juvenile offenders with disabilities in Oregon in terms of the barriers they faced in their transition from the correctional system back into the community. Data were gathered on 72 females and 276 males, all of whom presented disabilities and who were participating in a statewide project to support their transition from the juvenile correctional system back into the community. Logistic regression identified four barrier variables as more likely to be descriptive of female juvenile offenders with disabilities: (1) a history of running away from home or previous residential placements; (2) a history of suicide risk; (3) prior abuse or neglect; and (4) parenting responsibilities. Four other barrier variables were less likely to be descriptive of the female juvenile offender: (1) a specific learning disability; (b) Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Hyperactive Disorder (ADD/ADHD); (3) retained a grade while in public school; and (4) an inability to maintain employment. The results are discussed relative to the development of gender-specific services in both the juvenile correctional facilities and in transition from the facility to the community.

Juvenile arrests for individuals under the age of 18 numbered approximately 2.3 million in 2001, accounting for about 17% of all arrests. Involvement in the juvenile justice system is highly correlated with additional problem behaviors, including problem drinking and drug use, school failure, and frequent or early sexual activity (Donovan & Jessor, 1985; Donovan, Jessor, & Costa, 1988; Dryfoos, 1990). Often these problem behaviors continue to be displayed past adolescence into adulthood (Moffitt, 1993; Patterson, 1982). Much of the research in the juvenile justice system focuses generically on the total juvenile justice population-primarily male-with minimal literature examining important subpopulations (Chesney-Lind, 2001; Hartwig & Myers, 2003; Lipsey, 1992). For example, approximately 645,000-28%-of all juvenile arrests in 2001 were females under the age of 18 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs, 2003). Moreover, between 40%-70% of all youth who are incarcerated possess some type of disabling condition, either a special education diagnosis or a mental health disorder (Leone, Rutherford, & Nelson, 1991; Wolford, 2000). The goal of this article is to examine key differences or similarities in terms of demographic or background variables of female youth offenders with disabilities compared with their male counterparts that may pose barriers to successful facility-to-community transition.

Juvenile crime has decreased consistently over the last decade, although adjudication rates for females have increased. Delinquency cases for young women increased at a rate of 59% from 1990 to 1999 compared with only a 19% increase for males (Stahl, 2003). The increased crime rate for females is distributed across all offense categories (e.g., assault, robbery, motor vehicle theft). Even with this increased prosecution for crime types for females, specific types remain disparate when compared with males. Historically, females have been prosecuted disproportionately for status offenses (i.e., those crimes that would not be defined as criminal if the youth were an adult) (Chesney-Lind, 1997). For example, females represented 28% of all juvenile arrests in 2001 and accounted for only 23% of all juvenile arrests for aggravated assault-a violent crime-as well as 59% of all arrests for running away from home and 31% of juvenile arrests for curfew and loitering law violations-all status offenses (Snyder, 2003).

Prior research that examines characteristics of young women prior to delinquency indicates key differences between males and females. During typical adolescent development, females experience more episodes of depression than males; additionally, self-esteem during this period is diminished for females while male self-esteem increases (Rutter, 1989). …