Last Chance Ranch

Florida Detention Center Treats Troubled, Violent Girls

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Girls and the Juvenile Justice System is a new five-part series focusing on the harsh and difficult realities young girls face as they battle the complex justice system in the United States.

It begins with a look at the Florida Institute for Girls in West Palm Beach. The state opened the maximum-security facility three years ago, after seeing a sharp spike in the number of girls committing violent crimes. The detention center, which focuses on high-risk females with intensive mental health issues, is the last stop in the juvenile justice system before prison, says director Jacque Layne.

"Girls call it the last chance ranch, " Layne says. " If they can't make it here, they're not going to make it."

Many of the teenagers at the center committed serious violent crimes: car-jacking, armed robbery, aggravated battery, manslaughter. Some have been in and out of juvenile delinquency programs for years. Broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school and a family history of criminal activity are the norm. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on some of the girls' stories.

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