Juvenile Justice

Minimal Gender Bias Occurred in Processing Noncriminal Juveniles Gao ID: GGD-95-56 February 28, 1995

This report studies gender bias in state juvenile justice systems' handling of status offenders, who are youths who have committed an offense, such as truancy or ungovernable behavior, that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. GAO defines "gender bias" as intentional or unintentional differences in the juvenile justice system's outcomes of female and male status offenders who have similar characteristics, such as age, status offense, and prior offense history. GAO (1) compares the outcome of the intake decisions and the frequency and outcomes of detentions, adjudications, and out-of-home placements of female and male status offenders and (2) compares the availability of facilities and services for female and male status offenders in selected jurisdictions.

GAO found that: (1) there was minimal gender bias in state juvenile justice systems during that period; (2) 40 percent of the 500,620 juvenile status-offender cases between 1986 to 1991 involved females and females and males had similar probabilities of being detained, adjudicated, or placed for a status offense; (3) the offenders' prior offense history and age generally affected the judicial outcomes; (4) although there were few gender-based differences in the availability of counseling, educational, and medical services for females and males, the type and extent of such services varied by facility; (5) females were sometimes given admission physicals and additional access to health care services that were not applicable to males; (6) county probation officers believed that there were not any significant differences in the way females and males with similar status-offense histories were treated within their juvenile justice systems; (7) juvenile probation officers reported that treatment options were equally available for detained female and male status offenders and more facilities were needed for both males and females; (8) it could not determine whether there was a disproportionate number of facilities for males; (9) local officials believed that more facilities and early intervention services were needed for status offenders of both sexes; and (10) there were mixed views about whether the needs of status offenders were better met by co-educational or single-gender facilities.

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