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Female status offenders and justice reforms: an international perspective
journal contributionposted on 1982-06-01, 00:00 authored by Linda HancockLinda Hancock, M Chesney-Lind
Females are treated differently from males in the juvenile justice system. While the majority of males appear in juvenile court on charges of illegal behaviour, most females appear on “status offence” grounds, that is, for behaviour that only juveniles under a particular age can be brought to police or court attention. Females charged on moral or status offences are treated more harshly than males. However, when they are charged with illegal behaviour, females are treated more leniently which is appropriate, since delinquent girls are generally involved in less serious criminal behaviour than boys. In principle, the juvenile court was set up to protect juveniles and, by giving wide powers of discretion to law enforcers, to facilitate decisions in young offenders' best interests. In practice, particular categories of youth are treated more harshly than others. Evidence indicates that those females appearing on status offence charges (often from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds) are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual behaviour. This paper describes the present situation and outlines the failures of attempts at legislative changes in the definition and processing of juvenile status offenders in the United States and Australia. These examples show that the double standard of juvenile justice is international; not simply an artifact of one nation's court system. Treating status offence problems within a criminal justice system has destructive and damaging effects which may only intensify the problems from which such youth are ostensibly being protected. © 1982, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.