Young Girls Fill Courts Juvenile System Expects 171% Rise in Female Arrests

Article excerpt

DECATUR -- With their stylish coifs and painted nails, the

chatting and laughing girls clamoring for the jail director's

attention hardly look like the statistic they represent.

These girls are crammed into a DeKalb County state Regional

Youth Detention Center until their court dates. They are 30 of

the more than 1,300 girls likely to enter the state's Juvenile

Justice system this year -- a 171 percent increase since 1992.

By comparison, the number of boys incarcerated has climbed 83

percent.

"Consider how the family has changed. There used to be

certain things boys did and girls didn't. It was a sort of

social expectation," said Robert Croom, a retired Georgia State

University criminal justice professor and former chief county

probation officer. "Delinquency is an equal opportunity

employer."

While girls are more likely to go to jail or state-ordered

programs for fighting, damaging property or resisting authority,

they also are committing violent crimes and sex offenses like

their male counterparts.

"I just think we have moved away from the concept that

females only commit status-type of offenses, which would be your

runaways. We have females charged with crimes anywhere from

burglary to murder," said Mable P. Wheeler, director of the

Macon Youth Detention Center, which used to be the only

all-female youth jail in the state.

The changing face of juvenile crime has the state Department

of Juvenile Justice altering its plans. In the past two years,

the department has shifted gears to make two new prisons

all-female to accommodate the rising number of girls. While some

of the girls might go into heavily supervised community

programs, many will go to jail.

The 120-bed Pelham Youth Detention Center, which opened in

January, had been intended to house girls temporarily but now

will permanently incarcerate females. The new Emanuel County

Youth Detention Center, to open in March, will hold 168 girls. …