Justice for Girls: Are We Making Progress?


Over the course of more than a century, structural gender bias has been a remarkably durable feature of U.S. juvenile justice systems. Consequently, as these systems have developed over the years, reducing gender bias and addressing girls in helpful, rather than harmful, ways has required specific and concerted efforts on the part of federal and state governments. Currently, there are a number of positive trends in juvenile justice, including policy and practice that is increasingly developmentally centered and data driven. The question for those focused on girls in the juvenile justice system is how to ensure that girls are the beneficiaries of these positive trends.

This Article discusses the history of federal leadership on girls’ issues and then considers the impact on girls of current trends toward developmentally centered and data-driven juvenile justice. It considers the application of developmentally centered policy in relation to girls who experience family violence and those who are commercially sexually exploited. The Article then examines the movement toward data-driven decisionmaking for its potential to reduce embedded gender bias and particularly bias at the intersection of race and gender. It examines the impact on girls of the increasing use of assessment instruments and the consequences of greater reliance on evidence-based practice as further illustrations of the new data-driven approaches. Throughout, the Article discusses the implications of these trends for girls and suggests ways that systems can ensure that girls’ issues are considered and addressed.

About the Author

Francine T. Sherman is Visiting Clinical Professor and Director, Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project, Boston College Law School.

By uclalaw