Evaluating the mitigating effects of gender, trauma and mental health need in juvenile justice system processing for system-involved girls

Youth with mental health problems are disproportionately represented within the juvenile justice system. Research by Erin Espinosa, PhD, has shown that adolescent girls spend more time in confinement than boys, and are at a seven times greater risk of being placed in secure placement for violation of probation compared to boys. It is also known that girls with trauma histories serve longer confinement periods for violation of probation than boys, and that elevated scores on the traumatic experiences subscale are the strongest predictor for severity of out-of-home placement. These findings provide a more in-depth understanding of adolescents with mental health problems within the juvenile justice system, but more information is needed.

The Youth Pathways project will expand on the outcomes of this previous research in investigating the course female offenders take to and through the juvenile justice system. To do this, data on all youth referred to a state juvenile justice system over a seven-year period will be analyzed to explore how trauma and mental health need predicts time in confinement by gender. The project will also include a model of the interaction between mental health needs violation of parole, as well a second interaction between trauma exposure and violation of parole.

The Youth Pathways project will provide novel information concerning the role of mental health and trauma in confinement within the Texas juvenile justice system. It will shed light on the experiences of adolescent female offenders, and serve to better inform the juvenile justice system in Texas on the mental health services needed by youth in their care.