Judge John Romero

Presiding Judge, Bernalillo County Children Court

“Girls tend to be among the least popular populations to work with in detention,” says Judge John Romero, Presiding Judge, Bernalillo County Children Court. They are “considered more sensitive, dramatic and difficult than their male counterparts.” Romero recalls a seminar he once attended for youth correctional officers that was irreverently called “I’ll Take Ten of Your Boys if You Take One of My Girls.”

“The prevailing notion was that girls are more difficult than boys,” he explains. “Well, yes they’re more difficult if you don’t try to meet them where they are, if you don’t focus on relationship-building initially rather than ‘how do we fix the problem,’ and if you don’t develop trust between the girls and those that are in the trenches working with them.”

Girls tend to enter detention at earlier ages than boys and be held for less serious violations, such as violating probation or running away, rather than more serious violent offenses. Yet, on average, girls stay in detention longer than boys.

Romero says that’s in part because of “the male inclination to put a fence or hedge around a dainty little girl,” if a judge sees a young girl participating in behaviors, such as sex or drugs, where someone could take advantage of her, he may be inclined to put her in detention for safety. When he adjudicated girls’ cases, he began asking himself “If she were a boy, would I hold her?” The reality, he explains, is that girls are not always safer in detention, where there may also be predators.

Romero also noticed that there were fewer rehabilitation and community programs for girls than boys that serve as alternatives to detention, such as group homes and drug treatment programs. Albuquerque had a non-punitive court for boys, for example, which offered support for them to avoid detention, but there was no equivalent program for girls. Seven years ago, Romero started one himself. (He presides over one of the few Girls Courts in the nation.)

Gold, Jenny. (2012, November 26).  In juvenile detention, girls face health care designed for boys.  Kaiser Health News.