Relationships' Role in Female Juvenile Delinquency. (CT Feature)

Article excerpt

Female juvenile offenders represent a misunderstood, understudied population within the juvenile justice system. A system that historically has studied the anti-social behavior of adolescent males, the juvenile justice system has been challenged with addressing the decade-long rise in the number of adolescent females in the juvenile justice system.

E. Poe-Yamagota and A.J. Butts' 1996 report, Female Offenders in the Juvenile Justice System: Statistics Summary, documented the significant increase in violent crime index offenses by female juvenile offenders. Many jurisdictions have been confronted with a growing adolescent female population, while gender-specific services are limited, particularly for females incarceated in secure juvenile facilities.

Possible developmental trajectories for anti-social behavior in adolescent females are being developed and studied, including J. Belknap and K. Holsinger's victim-to-offender theory, "An Overview of Delinquent Girls," which explores the significance of negative, traumatic relationships in the risk potential for female adolescents for involvement in the juvenile justice system.

For the last decade, juvenile justice professionals have focused on how to address the needs of female adolescents in the juvenile justice system. When focusing on differences in offending behaviors, the role of relationships in the overall development of adolescent females is an important one for practitioners, administrators, policy-makers and decision-makers. How adolescent females view relationships, particularly negative relationships; adolescent females' attitudes and perceptions about others; the meanings they place on their relationship experiences; and how these experiences shape their current relationships are critical questions regarding adolescent females' relationship histories. The trauma many of them experience provokes their understanding of interpersonal relationships and their own coping mechanisms.

Relationships represent sources of both joy and pain for adolescent females. Healthy relationships can boost their selfesteem and self-confidence, whereas negative relationships can foster a form of aggression known as relational aggression, in which adolescent females try to hurt others in response to their pain. According to George Calhoun, Janelle Jurgens and Fengling Chen, adolescent females in the juvenile justice system report a 70 percent rate of victimization, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Consequently, the purpose of this article is to delineate the importance of relationships in developing healthy and unhealthy outcomes for adolescent females, particularly the role of relationships in the development of female juvenile delinquency Practitioners decision-makers and policy-makers need the tools to develop relationship-based interventions that represent the foundation for gender-specific programming for adolescent females. These tools can help reduce the incidence of offending behaviors and the level of involvement of adolescent females in the juvenile justice system. To understand the risk for adolescent females, professionals must understand the importance of negative, traumatic relationships in the development of adolescent females.


Belknap and Holsinger's victim-to-offender theory of female juvenile delinquency targets the role of victimization in the development of negative behaviors that influence females' involvement in the juvenile justice system. Given these negative and traumatic relationship histories, relationship-based intervention models are needed to help girls learn' about healthy relationships. Unhealthy relationships have been modeled in significant ways of life. Healthy relationships can be modeled through relationship-based interventions. These program models focus on girls' need to connect with others and how this need plays into their daily decision-making. …