Developing Correctional Facilities for Female Juvenile Offenders: Design and Programmatic Considerations

Article excerpt

Girls represent a challenge for the juvenile justice system. Their unique needs have to be considered in all aspects of facility design and operations. While much work has been done to explain what female-responsive programming looks like in a variety of settings, little has been done to explain how that programming might affect the design of juvenile residential facilities themselves. This article on female juvenile offenders is an effort to show how the programmatic needs of girls can translate into design concepts for more effective and responsive girls facilities and is based on a review of research as well as the authors' first-hand experience and interviews with staff and residents of juvenile correctional facilities.

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Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

Juvenile arrest trends. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, there was a precipitous increase in the overall number of juvenile arrests. However, the 10-year trend in rising juvenile crime appeared to have reached a plateau by the mid-1990s, and the number of arrests began to decline by 1997. According to FBI data, there was a 25 percent decrease in the overall number of juvenile arrests each year from 1996 to 2000. During that period, while the total number of juveniles arrested each year decreased by 25 percent, the number of females arrested decreased by only 11 percent. Although overall juvenile arrests have remained fairly constant since 2000, the number of female juveniles arrested has steadily increased. Whereas females under the age of 18 made up 25 percent of all juveniles arrested in 1996, they made up 30 percent of juveniles arrested in 2004--and that percentage has been increasing every year since 1996. (1)

Female and male juvenile offenses. Arrest numbers alone do not tell the whole story. They do not reflect the tremendous disparity between the nature of offenses for which female and male juveniles are arrested and institutionalized. In November 2005, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report by Francine Sherman titled Detention Reform and Girls: Challenges and Solutions, which examined data on the detention of girls from 1990 through 2001. According to the report, the number of girls entering juvenile detention nationwide rose 50 percent between 1990 and 1999, compared with only a 4 percent increase for boys.

Girls are far more likely than boys to be detained for misdemeanors, technical violations of probation and parole, and status offenses such as underage drinking or curfew violations that would not be crimes if committed by an adult, the report notes. Nationwide, girls represented 19 percent of the young people detained in 2001 but account for 24 percent of those detained specifically for technical violations and 43 percent of those detained for status offenses. The report suggests that, contrary to the statutory purposes of detention, many jurisdictions are detaining girls not simply to maintain public safety, but to protect and arrange services for girls who have not committed serious crimes--including many who have run away from chaotic or abusive homes. (2)

While the current situation requires a number of solutions, the remainder of this article focuses on the secure facilities designed to house female juveniles--specifically on how the programmatic needs of girls can translate into design concepts for more effective and responsive girls facilities.

Commonalities of Female Juvenile Offenders

While there are many standard considerations (including safety, security and cost) that impact the design of secure juvenile facilities, programming and space purpose also should shape facility design. Therefore, in order to consider the design implications of the female juvenile population, one must first understand the issues facing this population and the key elements of a female-responsive program.

The past 10 years have seen research that has expanded and confirmed the early academic work of pioneers such as Meda Chesney-Lind, Joanne Belknap and others in articulating the needs of girls and young women. …