Background and Significance: Rising female juvenile offender (FJO) rates over the last two decades have led to calls for “gender-specific” programming (Hartz & Thick, 2005; Zahn, 2006; Zahn et al., 2009). Yet many programs either remain “gender-neutral” (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004; Zahn et al., 2008) or rely on stereotypical gender roles (Goodkind & Miller, 2006; Holsinger, 2006). Furthermore, most programs for FJOs center on conceptions of white femininity due to inattention torace/ethnicity (Goodkind & Miller, 2006).
In 2005, the Women’s Well-Being Initiative partnered with Lexington County Juvenile Arbitration to design an arts-based intervention (ABI) specifically for FJOs. ABI curriculum was directed towards the needs of FJOs, acknowledging the diversity within FJOs and allowing them to share their experiences through artistic expression and interactive discussions. In this study, we compare our ABI with the Choices Anger Management program (AMP) – a “gender-neutral” program initially designed for boys – by examining their influence on recidivism rates. In addition, we examine racial differences in charges and racial composition of the programs.
Methods: Data were obtained from SC Department of Juvenile Justice records on 189 FJOs who completed either the ABI (n=115) or AMP (n=74) along with other sanctions. In addition to demographic variables, data included number and type of charges as well as the number and types of all sanctions completed. Sample characteristics were displayed via frequency distributions, and Pearson’s chi-squared test was utilized to compare groups (p<0.05).
Results: Forty-eight percent of the FJOs included in the study were White, 49% were Black, and 3% were other races. The most common charges at first offense among White FJOs were: 1. Shoplifting, 2. Possession of marijuana, 3. Disturbing schools, 4. Possession of alcohol by minor, while the most common charges at first offense among Black FJOs were 1. Simple assault, 2. Disturbing schools, 3. Shoplifting, 4. Public disorderly conduct. The difference in White-Black racial composition of the ABI and AMP was statistically significant: majority of the ABI participants were White (56%), whereas majority of AMP participants were Black (62%) (p<0.01). Although not statistically significant, recidivism rates were lower among FJOs who completed the ABI (14%) compared to FJOs who completed AMP (23%).
Conclusions: Our results contribute to contemporary debates about gender and racial bias in Juvenile Justice System programming. Arts-based programming is a promising gender-specific practice in terms of reducing recidivism rates among FJOs from all races. Scholars and practitioners need to develop more programs that show an understanding of racial and gender inequalities in the Juvenile Justice System.