A recent study from the University of Texas shows girls who are charged with crimes serve longer sentences than boys. Even if their offenses are less serious, young females are held in detention centers while they wait for trial an average of five days longer than males.
Over 5,000 juveniles from three Texas counties were studied over two years, reports the Austin-American Statesman. Research shows the extended sentences may be due to the effects of trauma. Erin Espinosa, a research associate from UT’s School of Social Work’s Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, conducted a similar study which was published two years ago. From the Austin-American Statesman:
Espinosa posited that girls who have been charged with crimes — who have had nearly twice as many traumatic experiences as convicted boys, her study found — are more likely to lash out as they struggle to cope with their abuse. “Oftentimes aspects of juvenile incarceration, like the sound of footsteps down a hallway or being physically restrained, can trigger memories of past sexual trauma especially for girls,” Espinosa said in a statement released by the university.
The girls may fight back as a result, which may lead to them given an extended stay or committed to state care. Espinosa elaborated more on the possible causes to Kera News: “When girls are in the community, they can get into trouble for status offenses like skipping school or running away or smoking cigarettes on campus,” she said. Espinosa explains this type of rebellious behavior could be “coping mechanisms for some trauma experience that they’re incurring in the home or community.”
What happens then?
“Then you lock them up and take them away, they no longer have the ability to do the three things that people do when we’re scared: The girls can’t run away from a juvenile corrections facility. They can’t flee because they’re held accountable for every move of the day. And they have to be responsive to the corrections officer, so they fight.”
When asked what could be done to help these girls, Espinosa said:
The entire ecology of where the kid and the family reside, and how those systems respond to each other would be one of the first things we could look at. The second would really kind of thinking about how the court process works in general. Is there a way to look at how we can assess and respond to youth through a developmental lens. Looking at whether they understand the ramifications of what has gone on with them, where they’re going to end up, and are they cognitively able to participate in their own court process.
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