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Women and Girls in the Justice System

Special Feature


Women in the justice system have different needs than men, in part due to the higher rate at which they are victims of abuse and their responsibility for children.

For women, there is not one single, dominant pathway that leads them to enter the criminal justice system. Rather, there are multiple ways in which their experiences contribute to their illegal behavior. Key factors that have emerged in research on women’s pathways to crime include experiences of abuse or trauma, poverty and marginalization, mental health disorders, substance abuse, and dysfunctional relationships.

For young girls, the pathways to delinquency are often different than they are for boys. At-risk girls are much more likely than boys to have histories of sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences, report thoughts of suicide, experience persistent sadness or mental illness, use drugs and alcohol, and run away from home.

Gender-informed approaches in corrections can be a helpful tool in preventing recidivism among women.

Also, central among the many differences in reentry experiences between men and women is that men typically return to a home and a family. Men are also more likely than women to secure income-generating employment. On the other hand, when a woman is released, she must often reestablish a home and family roles, regain custody of her children, and secure a job that pays sufficient income to care for herself and her children.

To facilitate positive outcomes for women during the transition and reentry phases post-release, collaboration between corrections and community providers is vital. Community providers can facilitate and help incarcerated women to navigate complex service delivery systems and provide needed assistance.

To learn more, visit the following pages for information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal sources:

Date Created: August 13, 2020