Report Finds Girls Face Harsher Treatment in Maryland's Juvenile Justice System; Lawmakers Seek Fix

WASHINGTON — When girls are committed to juvenile facilities in Maryland, they end up in more restrictive settings for longer periods than boys do, and they have fewer options to help them transition out of the system. That’s why Maryland lawmakers are taking another look at the juvenile justice system and one delegate is planning on drafting a bill to address the issue.

Girls are “more likely to wind up in a restrictive environment like a long-term committed placement center for a low-level offense than boys are” said Eliza Steele, a senior monitory with the juvenile justice monitoring unit in the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Action from lawmakers comes after an investigation this month by The Baltimore Sun found that although girls make up just a fraction of juvenile offenders in the state’s system — 17 percent — they are subjected to tougher punishments. The Sun also cited a report that found that 24 percent of girls enter the system with a history of being victims of physical abuse and 30 percent have been sexually abused.

“The biggest injustice here is that the idea that they’re really being criminalized for behavior that really is a manifestation of their trauma,” Steele said.

Maryland Del. Kathleen Dumais is working on a plan to draft a bill to deal with the disparities of how girls are treated in the juvenile justice system.

In 2010, Dumais introduced legislation to give girls access to the same kind of programs and services available to male juvenile offenders. Maryland’s General Assembly session begins Jan. 11th.

The Sun reports lawmakers are taking another run at the legislation based in part on the newspaper’s investigation into conditions for girls in the juvenile justice system

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