Girls in a Justice System Built for Boys

Boston Detention Home Sees Rise in Young Female Offenders

The past 10 years have brought a surge of young women into the nation's juvenile justice system. Some estimates put the increase at more than 25 percent nationwide. The vast increase in female offenders has caught the juvenile justice system off-guard. Across the country, detention homes originally built to house delinquent boys are now struggling to serve a growing wave of girls — a population that often enters the system not just as criminals, but also as victims of sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

In the second part of the series Girls and the Juvenile Justice System, NPR's Michele Norris visits a state-run detention home in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. Like many facilities across the country, the home is experiencing growing pains as it struggles to cope with a new population of girls.

As many as 80 percent of the girls housed there are victims of sexual or physical abuse. They often arrive with sexually transmitted diseases and other medical problems. Some are suicidal. In the past two months, nine were pregnant when they arrived.

"A penal system originally designed for boys is simply not structured to handle these kinds of issues," Norris says.

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