Gender-Responsive Approaches in Juvenile Justice: How the System Prioritizes the Content- and Context-Related Needs of Girls

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(9) 895 –917
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221095402
Approaches in Juvenile
Justice: How the System
Prioritizes the Content- and
Context-Related Needs
of Girls
Valerie R. Anderson1
This study analyzes how juvenile courts utilize gender-responsive approaches by
examining stakeholder narratives about girls in the juvenile justice system. The study
uses a directed content analytic approach to examine the extent to which stakeholder
narratives align with gender-responsive principles related to content- and context-
related needs. Findings revealed that stakeholders most commonly refer to girls’
family dysfunction, delinquency history, and the need for community-based services.
Stakeholders were limited in their discussion of girls’ health and provision of trauma-
informed care. Learning from stakeholders provides a unique lens to consider ways
to integrate gender-responsive practices within the juvenile justice system.
girls, gender-responsive, juvenile justice, court stakeholders, qualitative content analysis
Feminist criminologists have consistently advocated for the inclusion of gender-
responsive approaches when working with system-involved women and girls (Bloom
et al., 2004; Zahn et al., 2008). This focus on gender-responsive policy and practice
1University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Valerie R. Anderson, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210389, Cincinnati,
OH 45221-0389, USA.
1095402CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221095402Criminal Justice Policy ReviewAnderson
896 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(9)
reforms in juvenile justice is, in part, due to the emerging interest in female delin-
quency and the implementation of evidence-based practice in juvenile justice settings
(Walker et al., 2015; Zahn et al., 2008). Thus, the academic literature on gender-
responsive approaches in the juvenile justice system has grown in recent years (see,
for example, Anderson, Walerych, et al., 2019; Day et al., 2015; Javdani & Allen,
2016). From a gender-responsivity perspective, girls’ behaviors—and the justice sys-
tem’s response—are guided by girl-specific concerns (Matthews & Hubbard, 2008).
Gender-responsive theories are especially important in explaining and responding to
adolescent girls given that historically most theories of crime, and subsequent
approaches to responding to offending, were developed based on the experiences and
behaviors of boys (Mallicoat, 2007).
Although there is a body of literature that documents gender-responsive needs, risk
factors, and girls’ pathways into crime, there remains limited understanding of how
gender-responsive principles translate into juvenile justice practice through court staff
knowledge and system implementation (Kerig & Schindler, 2013; Ravoira et al., 2012;
Walker et al., 2015). The purpose of the current study is to assess the meaning of gen-
der-responsive approaches by examining stakeholder narratives about system-involved
girls and how juvenile court staff adopt gender-responsive approaches. More specifi-
cally, this study examines how practitioners identify the needs of girls and the subse-
quent response to those needs as well as the extent to which stakeholder narratives align
with the principles put forth in the literature on gender-responsive approaches.
Calls for Change: A Gender-Responsive Approach
The reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)
in 1992 outlined the need for gender-specific services and an examination of gender
bias in the system (Walker et al., 2015). The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention (OJJDP) reissued these recommendations in 1998 to incentivize state and
local governments to provide gender-responsive interventions for youth (Kerig &
Schindler, 2013). The amendment to the JJDPA explicitly stated the need for physical
and mental health services, education, and treatment for prior traumatic experiences.
Despite reissuing these recommendations and allocating funding to support new pro-
gramming, researchers still identified disconnects between the perceptions of system
practitioners and the realities of girls’ lives. Seminal research on girls’ system involve-
ment identified that practitioners often rely on stereotypes to characterize girls under
their supervision (Gaarder et al., 2004).
Numerous task forces and committees have been developed across states to imple-
ment gender-responsive services based on the principles put forth by the academic and
governmental bodies of literature (Kerig & Schindler, 2013; Walker et al., 2015). Of
note in gender-responsive reform was the development of the Girls’ Study Group
(GSG), a collaborative team of leading researchers on gender and crime, through the
OJJDP in 2004. The GSG reviewed literature on girls’ involvement with the juvenile
justice system and concluded that there was a systematic lack of attention to gender
across all areas of juvenile justice research (Kerig & Schindler, 2013; Zahn et al., 2008).

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