Girls at Risk for Delinquency

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Girls at Risk for Delinquency

Girls make up the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system in Illinois and across the nation. However, girls still commit far less crime than their male counterparts, comprising only 29 percent of arrests in the United States in 2006.(1) In addition to increased delinquency, juvenile justice decision-making, changing laws, and shifting societal views may reduce the number of girls who become involved in the juvenile justice system.

In Illinois, girls (females under 17 years old) are becoming increasingly visible in the juvenile justice system, particularly for offenses against a person and status offenses. Girls experienced a greater increase in rates of arrest between 2002 and 2007, and boys a greater decrease in rates of corrections commitment from 1999 to 2004. A larger decrease was seen in rates of girls' detention admission than boys.

There are risk factors that put juveniles at risk for delinquency, as well as protective factors that help reduce delinquency. Many risk and protective factors apply to both boys and girls; however, girls are more affected by risk factors that are physiological and relational. The unique needs of girls related to sexually-transmitted disease, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, mental health issues, abuse and exploitation, as well as their patterns of delinquency, warrant gender-specific programming.

Examining At-Risk and Delinquent Girls in Illinois, the ICJIA report commissioned by the SAG, examined risk factors of girls in Illinois including individual, family, and school risk factors. Also examined were delinquent girls at arrest, detention, and corrections stages in the juvenile justice system. Data tables containing the arrest, detention, and corrections numbers included in this application are taken from that report. The full report is available online at

While certain factors may increase the probability of a girl's delinquent behavior and involvement in the juvenile justice system, there are other protective factors that may reduce that probability. Research has shown girls have a younger age of onset of antisocial behavior than boys and victimization is a stronger predictor of female offending than it is for boys.(2) Girls and boys experience many of the same risks, but may differ in sensitivity to and rate of exposure to these risks. As a result, they have different risk assessment and programmatic needs.(3)

Goldweber, Broidy, and Cauffman (2009) identified risk factors primarily associated with girls (Figure 1).(4) The right section of Figure 1 indicates two particularly relevant risk factors for females due to personal relationships and brain activity. Girls place great importance on interpersonal relationships and acceptance from others. When there are negative relationships with family and intimate partners, girls may exhibit aggression towards them. In addition, girls with greater frontal brain activation on the right than the left side (R > L) causes reduced verbal ability and emotional control which can contribute to delinquent behavior.(5)

Figure 1
Risk factors associated with delinquency for boys and girls

[Textual description of a drawn object - each column represents the different parts of the two combining circles]


Lower levels of MAOA genotype

Fight or flight


Low cortisol levels

Low resting heart rate

Early puberty

Neuropsychological impairments

Co-morbid mental health problems

Lower levels of empathy

Heightened sensitivity to rewards/ stimulation

Dysfunctional families/ antisocial socialization

Harmful pre-post-natal monitoring

Poor parental monitoring

Early interpersonal victimization

Negative temperament

Deviant peers



Low IQ


Adversarial interpersonal relationships

R > L frontal activation

Adapted from: Goldweber, Asha, Lisa Broidy M., and Elizabeth Cauffman, "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Persistent Female Offending: A Review of Theory and Research," in The Development of Persistent Criminality, ed. Joanne Savage Oxford University Press (2009).

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