Tuesday, November 21, 2017
ABA J, Girls' Courts Under Scrutiny
As courtrooms specializing in girls’ cases crop up around the country, the U.S. Department of Justice is examining whether they actually work.
Since the early 2000s, an estimated 20 specialty girls’ courts have been created nationwide, though these gender-specific courts mean different things in different places. Sometimes it’s simply a docket dedicated to cases for girls. Others specialize in linking young female defendants with social services. There are even courts that hear only sex trafficking cases.
Leading the examination is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Girls Initiative. “The study is a chance to look at where they are, what do they look like and how do we define their effectiveness,” says Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of the National Crittenton Foundation in Portland, Oregon, which coordinates the National Girls Initiative with the office.
The major concern is whether these courts are bringing more girls into the system and keeping them in detention and in prison longer or offering alternatives to incarceration.
The researchers are meeting with judges around the country, including Jennifer L. Ching, presiding judge of the Hawaii Girls Court. Established in 2004 as part of the Family Court of the First Circuit in Honolulu, it’s one of the country’s first such courts. It focuses on girls brought in on status charges, such as running away, skipping school or breaking curfew.
“Girls’ court is about the actual court hearings but also about supporting gender-specific, empowering activities,” says Karen Radius, founding judge of the Hawaiian court.
For a related prior post, see Girls' Court