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Apples and Oranges: Gender & Justice Programs

Apart from punishment and deterrence, another goal of justice and corrections is to prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders. Criminal and juvenile justice experts have long recognized the impact of prevention and reentry programs on achieving these goals, but, in order to be effective, these programs need to meet the needs of the populations they serve.  And when it comes to women and girls, they don’t.

In the realm of criminal justice, men tend to offend (or at least get caught) more often than women; female offenders comprise just 7 percent of Florida’s state prisoner population.  The same is true when examining the juvenile justice system, where girls comprise just 13 percent of all youth in residential facilities.  Due to these facts, justice-involved women and girls are often treated through programs and  services targeted towards the larger population: men and boys.  

But, while it’s true that women and girls are less likely to have contact with the justice system, it’s also true that they are much more likely than their male counterparts to end up behind bars for less serious/nonviolent crimes, and that they have unique pathways into the justice system as well as face different challenges upon reentry. For example, justice-involved women and girls are more likely to have experienced abuse (57 percent in women compared to 16 percent in men) or sexual assault (39 percent in women vs. 6 percent in men), and are more prone to have diagnosed mental health issues and be the main caregiver of a child—challenges that prevention and reentry services targeted towards male offenders are simply not designed to address.  

For many women and girls in the justice system, the use of gender-responsive programs that target these specific obstacles is essential for success.  California’s Female Offender Treatment and Employment Program, for example, provides targeted substance abuse, parenting, employment and other services to female offenders with substance abuse issues and has been shown to be effective.  Participants in the program recidivated 25 percent less than incarcerated women who did not receive treatment.  Florida has made some progress in the use of gender-responsive services for juvenile justice involved girls through programs like the PACE Center for Girls, which sees participant recidivism rates lower than 10 percent and academic improvements as high as 90 percent, but much still remains to be done, especially for adult women in the justice system.  

Prevention, diversion, and reentry programs are crucial to ensuring the safety of Floridians and the well-being of the state as a whole. Unfortunately, programs that address the specific challenges faced by justice-involved women and girls are scarce.  It is imperative that Florida focus on creating and expanding  gender-responsive  initiatives in order to improve outcomes for these female offenders, reunite families, and promote public safety in the Sunshine State.

To learn more about the unique needs of women in the criminal justice system, click here.

To learn more about girls’ pathways into the juvenile justice system, click here.

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