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Women and Girls in the Justice System

"Women offenders have needs different from those of men, stemming in part from their disproportionate victimization from sexual or physical abuse and their responsibility for children. They are also more likely to be addicted to drugs and to have mental illnesses." (Women Offenders: Programming Needs and Promising Approaches, National Institute of Justice).


Female criminal behavior has been commonly perceived as a less serious problem than male criminal behavior. Historically, women have been more likely to commit minor offenses and have made up only a small proportion of the offender population. Although women remain a relatively small number of all prisoners, these facts have concealed a trend in the rising percentage of female offenders, their participation in violent crime, and have inhibited the development of gender-specific programs to address the issue (Research on Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System, National Institute of Justice, 1999).

On the whole, girls' delinquent acts are typically less chronic and often less serious than those of boys. Minor offenses predominate among female delinquent offenders. However, minor offenses may mask serious problems that girls are experiencing. Running away from home and other status offenses (such as truancy) are major components of girls' delinquency. Although their offense behavior may not appear to be very serious, these girls may be fleeing from serious problems and victimization, some involving illegal behavior by adults, which in turn makes them vulnerable to subsequent victimization and engaging in other behaviors that violate the law such as prostitution, survival sex,1 and drug use (Causes and Correlates of Girls' Delinquency, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2010).

Many risk factors can contribute to women's criminal behavior, including substance abuse, mental illness, and spousal abuse. One of the most significant risk factors is prior victimization (Women Offenders: Programming Needs and Promising Approaches, National Institute of Justice, 1998).

This topical resource on Women and Girls in the Justice System contains the following information:

Facts and Figures – Includes the latest information and statistics.
Legislation – A sample of links to online Federal and State legislation and testimony.
Publications – A sample of available resources.
Programs – Examples of State and local programs and initiatives available online.
Training and Technical Assistance – A sample of training and technical assistance opportunities available through nationally recognized agencies and associations.
Grants and Funding – Links to Federal funding opportunities.
Related Resources – Examples of nationally recognized agencies and organizations that provide services or information.

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