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Documenting the Link Between Health Care & Juvenile Justice

Girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population, and are also among the sickest and most medically underserved adolescent populations in the nation. Girls enter the juvenile justice system at younger ages than boys, for less serious violations—like running away or violating probation—and are less likely to have their health needs identified or met in a system largely designed for boys. Up to 90 percent of girls in detention are themselves victims of violence, having experienced early and repeated physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse; and consequently have higher rates of mental health and substance abuse problems than boys. For decades, researchers and policymakers have struggled to find the best way to ensure that the 460,000 girls who enter the United States Juvenile Justice System each year are diverted away from the pipeline moving teens into the adult criminal justice system. Over the last decade, our research has revealed that improved access to health care for these vulnerable girls is an important part of the solution. We found that addressing the physical and mental health care needs of young girls in detention can reduce recidivism and the likelihood of committing future violent offenses by 72 percent while improving their health. The Girls Health & Justice Institute has created evidence-based tools that help girls and the juvenile justice system identify and treat girls’ health care needs early on and then link them to benefits and resources in the community, providing pathways for healthy lives outside of the criminal justice system.