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Girls In Juvenile Hall Report Higher Drug Use Than Boys

Nearly all of the juveniles interviewed, 96 percent, reported using at least one drug in their lifetime, and 88 percent said they had used a substance during the past year.
Nearly all of the juveniles interviewed, 96 percent, reported using at least one drug in their lifetime, and 88 percent said they had used a substance during the past year.
girls drug use
Girls In Juvenile Hall Report Higher Drug Use Than Boys
Girls In Juvenile Hall Report Higher Drug Use Than Boys.

CAVANAUGH: We are awaiting the start of a news conference from downtown San Diego. Attorney Gloria Allred says she will present another alleged victim of mayor Bob Filner's sexual advances. We'll bring you that conference when it begins. Right now we'll discuss a study about what brings girls into the San Diego juvenile justice system. Those factors are significantly different from what brings boys into the system. In a series of interviews conducted at San Diego's juvenile hall, researchers have found that girls who find themselves in trouble with the law are more likely to have experimented with drugs, have troubled home lives, and have runaway from home more than boys in the system. Joining me to talk about the significance of these findings are my guest, Kim Allen is deputy chief probation officer of juvenile field services for San Diego County. Welcome. ALLEN: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: And Cynthia Burke is director of applied research at the San Diego association of government, or SANDAG. BURKE: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Before we begin talking about the differences you found in girls and boys at juvenile hall, let's be clear about the biggest difference. There are fewer girls in juvenile hall than boy; isn't that right? BURKE: Definitely. We have fewer girls in the system, both at the juvenile level and adults. But over the past 20 years, we've seen arrests and crime go down. But during that time, the arrest for boys has gone down less than it has for girls. Girls have gone up a little bit. CAVANAUGH: And Kim, there's also a difference about why many of the girls are in juvenile hall. Tell us about the status offenses that bring many young girls into custody. ALLEN: We're looking at runaway offenses, truancy, some minor substance abuse issues. It's usually something happening in the home that may not necessarily be a law violation, but it's something that leads to misbehavior in the future. We're looking at a lot of trauma that may have occurred while the youth was growing up. Many of the girls were what we term crossover youth. And those have been part of the dependency system, and are in the process of crossing over into the juvenile justice system. CAVANAUGH: Did SANDAG aim at finding out the defenses between girls and boys in custody, or is that just one of the things that developed in your study? BURKE: We've been doing the study for a number of years. And we keep seeing consistent gender differences. And this year we wanted to highlight some of those differences a lot bit more than we have in the past because we think it is so important both for anybody who comes into contact with a girl who they think might have underlying issues, whether it be a service provider, a teacher or just somebody in the community. We know that there's risk and protective factors. A protective factor is having a mentor, an adult a girl can look up to. So we wanted to make sure we got the message out. When you see troubling behaviors in girl, it might just look like juvenile delinquent acts. There's probably something underlying that needs addressed. CAVANAUGH: What did you find out about drug use? BURKE: We found in this year's data that girls stated alcohol use much earlier than boys. And also they were much more likely to have ever tried methamphetamines, LSD, ecstasy, and spice which is a manmade substitute for marijuana. CAVANAUGH: And one. The most disturbing parts of the SANDAG study was that the number of girls at juvenile hall who report that their families had prior involvement with child protective services. Tell us about that. And what does that mean? BURKE: We found that 2/3 of the girls, 64% said that their family had had some type of prior contact with CPS, compared to only 15% of the boys. That's a concern. Especially when you look at the runaway behavior we saw with the girls. And many times girls may be fleeing victimization. We know that there's family situations there. And then what is even more troubling is that makes them even more open to subsequent victimization. We had a big prostitution sting across the country last week. And so increased substance abuse, survival, sex, prostitution. CAVANAUGH: And does this confirm things you've already seen in the field? ALLEN: Absolutely, absolutely. As a matter of fact, we're building our probation services around our knowledge of trauma, and learning more about how trauma affects what's happening with youth now. CAVANAUGH: And what was the difference between the number of girl and boys who had previously run away from home? BURKE: 2/3, 76% of the girls had run away. We don't have their names to checkup on that information. But when you look at our data from 2000, it's very consistent over time. So we feel that people share the information, they don't have a reason to lie. CAVANAUGH: And Kim, you heard what the girls and guys have said when they're in custody at juvenile hall. Do girls who are on probation pose different challenges to probation officers than boys do? ALLEN: Well, we certainly need to look at gender specific programming for our youth. We're going to need different services for girls than for boys. We have a program in the department called WINGS, are it's working to nurture and ensure girls' success. So we drive a lot of that programming into what the girls' needs are. CAVANAUGH: What is SANDAG going to do with this information? BURKE: We want to get it out in the field. We pride ourselves on doing research that's relevant. We want to get it out to policy makers, service providers who might be writing grants to get funding to bring in for our girls. We want to get it out to schools and educators. That's why we're excited to come on air and share the data with you today. CAVANAUGH: What do you think gender appropriate intervention might look like for girls considering the information in this report? BURKE: I think it's looking at the underlying risk factors and trying to address those, getting them in substance abuse services, providing treatment, services that is are informed by the trauma. And in the WINGS program, we evaluated that ten years ago. It has been around for a number of years, and you want to make sure you're looking at the family unit as a whole. A lot of the parents, knowing the CPS contact, they might need additional resources. CAVANAUGH: I think people in general think both boys and girls who are in juvenile hall come from troubled home, a lot of them. But this disparity between the overwhelming number of girls who come from troubled homes and the boys, I think it was 60% to 15%? Something like that? That's rather startling, isn't it? Let me ask you, Kim. &%F0 ALLEN: Yes, it is. But it's not surprising. CAVANAUGH: Because of what you've seen in the field? ALLEN: Absolutely. BURKE: And we know girls are more likely to come into the system for the status offenses as you referred to earlier. And we know that it continues on in the adult system. And I think it is important -- I want to make sure that people see this data and don't just think oh, it's those kids at juvenile hall. Even though they may not get in contact with the juvenile justice system, there's still girls out there at risk to go down the path of drug use. And there still might be underlying trauma there. CAVANAUGH: One quick question, Kim, how likely is it that girls go on to commit adult crimes? Girls and boys. Are girls less likely to commit adult crimes as they grow up? ALLEN: I believe so. But as we develop our programs now regarding the trauma, and making sure that we see what has happened to youth, and not look at them, like, what did you do? Instead, what happened to you? And if we look at it through that lens, we can more positively address the trauma they may have experienced and respond to it in a different manner ourselves so we do not perpetuate that trauma as they go through our system. CAVANAUGH: I want to thank Kim Allen and Cynthia Burk of SANDAG. Thank you both very much. BURKE: Thank you. ALLEN: Thank you.

Girls Abuse Drugs At Higher Rates Than Boys, Study Finds
Girls abuse drugs at substantially higher rates than boys, according to a new report that analyzed juvenile arrestee drug use in San Diego County.

Girls abuse drugs at substantially higher rates than boys, according to a new report by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division that analyzed juvenile arrestee drug use in San Diego County.

Highlights of the SANDAG Report

  • 64 percent of the girls interviewed for the study reported that their families had prior involvement with Child Protective Services, compared to 15 percent of the boys.
  • 76 percent of the girls reported having run away from home, compared to 41 percent of the boys.
  • Girls were significantly more likely than boys to report using alcohol at an earlier age. The average age of first alcohol use is 11.8 for girls and 12.9 for boys.
  • Girls were significantly more likely than boys to have tried methamphetamine (56% vs. 21%); ecstasy (60% vs. 27%); LSD (28% vs. 7%); and spice (76% vs. 45%).
  • Girls also were significantly more likely than boys to have missed school due to drug use (50% vs. 16%).

Girls make up a smaller percentage of juvenile hall offenders, but they’re far more likely than boys to enter the system with greater underlying issues such as mental health, victimization and substance abuse.

Many girls enter the juvenile hall system with a status offense such as a truancy or running away, according to the report.


"Their behavior, which is associated with other risk factors, may be abuse in the home, parental substance abuse, or other things that could be putting them on a trajectory for increased risk later in life," said Cynthia Burke, director of applied research at SANDAG.

More than 60 percent of the girls interviewed for the study reported that their families had prior involvement with Child Protective Services, compared to 15 percent of the boys.

"Running away from home is a status offense and a status offense is a crime that only a juvenile can be arrested for," Burke said. "We found that 76 percent of girls said they had run away from home in the past, compared to 41 percent of the boys."

Another gender difference among juvenile arrestees is the the average age of first alcohol consumption. For girls, it's 11.8 years. Boys average 12.9 years.

“We found that the girls were trying alcohol at an earlier age than the boys and they were also significantly more likely to report that they had ever tried meth, ecstasy, spice, as well as LSD,” Burke said.


Girls are also more likely than boys to have missed school because of drug use, according to the report.

Burke said the study highlights the importance of having gender-appropriate intervention programs to address the underlying needs of girls.

As part of the study, a total of 124 youths were interviewed at San Diego County Juvenile Hall in March and September of 2012, according to SANDAG. Ninety-seven percent of the youth provided a urine sample for drug testing purposes.

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