Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice Working to Create Girl-Specific Programs

Now Florida's Juvenile Justice Department is being asked to develop more girl specific programs to respond to the rising number of girls in the system instead of locking them up.

Nearly 29,000 girls are in Florida’s juvenile justice system.

Seventeen-year-old Emma got into the all-girls PACE Center day program that focuses on education and building self-esteem after her run-ins with the law that included drugs and violent behavior. She says the intensive counseling and girl-centered approach is turning her life around.

Emma said, "I’ve learned to make better decisions, and to control anger and work harder and think more positively."

But a new study finds many girls in the juvenile justice system aren’t as lucky. They’re more likely than boys to be sentenced to residential lock-ups for less serious offenses, and even though girls are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and family violence, they often don’t have access to proper counseling and treatment.

Advocates say Florida is making progress in developing gender-specific programs to get girls back on track and help them stay out of trouble. But more needs to be done, starting with funding.

Cassandra Jenkins with the Children’s Campaign says the state would do well to put more money into early intervention programs that focus on counseling and family support.

Cassandra Jenkins said, "Research has shown if you spend it on the front end and you spend it wisely in the way it should be used to address the needs of the kids, you’re going to save a lot more than if you spend it at the back end, locking them up in a residential facility or worse, putting them in a prison."

And the state needs to act soon. The number of girls referred for delinquency is up almost 70 percent from a decade ago. The study of girls in Florida’s juvenile justice system also found 40 percent commit their first crime before their 13th birthday.