Correctional administrators should focus on staff training, appropriate programming and facility conditions to ensure the safety and healthy development of girls locked up in adult jails and prisons, a new report says.
While policymakers should do all they can to keep girls out of adult jails and prisons, some girls do end up in adult facilities and their needs must be met, said researchers from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Correctional staff play a key role in making sure that happens — and many want to do it well, said Caroline Glesmann, a researcher at the NCCD who co-wrote the new report released by the National Institute of Corrections.
“They’re thinking about the issue and working to address needs in terms of training and staffing in the adult system as it relates to young people in general and girls in particular,” she said.
The report provides an overview of the current research on how girls end up in the adult system and their needs and experiences once there. It also draws on a survey of and listening sessions with correctional administrators.
Girls who end up in the adult system share many of the characteristics of girls in the juvenile justice system, according to the report. They are likely to have experienced disproportionately high rates of physical or sexual abuse or trauma, more likely to be pregnant or parenting and to need services including mental health counseling and substance use treatment.
When they do enter adult facilities, girls need programing and services that recognize the importance to adolescents of forming strong relationships and to be kept safe from physical or sexual violence and self-harm. But the staff ratios and limited training opportunities for correctional officers can make it harder to guarantee those needs are met.
In the survey of 22 correctional administrators, 68 percent strongly agreed or agreed they have the institutional culture needed to support girls, 59 percent said they had appropriate staff-to-inmate ratios and 41 percent said their physical plant was adequate.
The report lays out the steps correctional staffs and policymakers can take to protect girls, including to:
- avoid the use of isolation,
- provide youth-specific programming,
- use gender-specific and age-appropriate risk assessment tools,
- allow opportunities for relationship-building,
- provide educational and vocational opportunities to support reentry, and
- consider girls the experts on their own lives and listen to their needs and ideas.
In addition, keeping girls out of the adult system in the first place is a critical step, the researchers said. Reforms should emphasize community-based alternatives to incarceration and keeping youth in the juvenile system.
“We have this big opportunity as it relates to juvenile justice reform to move kids out of the system altogether,” Glesmann said.
This story has been updated.