New data from the Iowa Department of Human Rights finds young women are more likely than young men to be held in juvenile detention when they’re accused of a misdemeanor like shoplifting or even running away.
“The Task Force for Young Women has been looking at some of these data sets for a couple of years. Though we’re not seeing huge differences, there are ongoing differences between girls and boys in the system,” says Rachel Scott, public information officer for the Iowa Department of Human Rights. “Young women are held for primarily nonviolent offenses and are held at a substantially higher rate for misdemeanor offenses than are young men.”
According to Scott, there probably aren’t “great reasons” for placing a girl who’s accused of a misdemeanor in a detention facility. The department’s report shows that nearly 80 percent of the girls who were placed in detention in 2008 were accused of a misdemeanor. Young men or boys accused of some of the same crimes were far less likely to be placed in detention.
“Shoplifting and running away are some offenses where young women are held at much higher rates,” Scott says.
In an era of scarce resources, unnecessarily holding young women or girls in detention when they’re accused of minor crimes is unwise according to Scott. Scott says her agency is sharing this information with the public and with those involved in the juvenile justice system in hopes of changing attitudes.
“Sometimes there can be a paternalistic attitude that thinks that, for instance, a girl who’s running away needs to be locked up, that this is kind of for her own good,” Scott says, “or we see behaviors enter into the decision to detain a girl that don’t necessarily enter in for a boy like…promiscuity or histrionic behavior.”
The report on females in the state’s juvenile justice system finds a recent increase in the number of arrests of young women of color, compared to a decrease in arrests of white girls. Read the full report here.