Incarcerated Girls, Criminal Pathways and Multiple Forms of Abuse

Abstract

Researchers have long been concerned with the reasons that lead young people into a life of crime, yet most of this work has focused on the experiences of males and how they end up behind bars or eventually leave a life of crime. Mainstream criminological thought often lacks an inclusive understanding about the experiences that lead girls into the criminal justice system. With this study, the researchers seek to add to the understanding of how girls end up behind bars, specifically exploring the relationship between experiences of abuse and juvenile justice. Using two years of ethnographic research with incarcerated girls at a juvenile detention center in southern California, this article questions the abuse experiences of justice-involved girls and the connection between abuse and juvenile justice involvement for girls. Interviews with the 33 girls in the study were analyzed for disclosures of abuse and mistreatment, yielding the experiences of 14 different girls included in this article’s analysis. Our findings demonstrate that prior to being incarcerated, participants experienced multiple forms of abuse, or polyvictimization, both inside and outside of the home. Further, the authors highlight how the experiences of girls contribute to their eventual incarceration. Participants had to negotiate mistreatment across various institutions and by multiple people, with little help from schools, the juvenile justice, or child welfare systems. As a whole this work provides valuable insight into the experiences of girls before they are incarcerated.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All of the interviews took place between 2010 and 2011.

  2. 2.

    The second and third author helped analyze data and collected background information for the paper. All three authors contributed to writing and editing the manuscript as a whole. A small team of research assistants transcribed the data.

  3. 3.

    This method of analyzing ethnographic data follows the process described in Emerson et al. (1995). See this text for an extensive discussion on the process of coding qualitative data.

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Correspondence to Jerry Flores.

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Flores, J., Hawes, J. & Bhinder, B. Incarcerated Girls, Criminal Pathways and Multiple Forms of Abuse. J Fam Viol 35, 509–518 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-019-00122-7

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Keywords

  • Girls
  • Life course
  • Incarceration
  • Qualitative research
  • Ethnography
  • Criminology
  • Prisons
  • Polyvictimization