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Number of girls arrested in Cape Girardeau not matching national trend

Monday, October 27, 2008

Though young women are the fastest growing segment of the national juvenile justice population, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, local numbers do not reflect a dramatic increase in the number of girls arrested as juveniles.

Through Tuesday, 34 percent of juveniles arrested in Cape Girardeau ages 18 or younger this year were female, while 27 percent of those arrested under age 15 were girls.

In 2006, girls also made up 34 percent of the number of juveniles 18 or younger arrested in Cape Girardeau, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Last year, 87 girls younger than 15 were arrested in Cape Girardeau, of a total 243 arrests of juveniles in that age group.

The number of girls cited in Cape Girardeau County Court has crept up, but not spiked as figures have in some areas, said Randy Rhodes, Cape Girardeau chief juvenile officer.

"It's more than it used to be, but it's not the national average," Rhodes said.

Nationally, the rate of juvenile delinquency for girls is decreasing much slower than for boys, meaning girls are making up more of the incarcerated juvenile population, and a handful of states reported incarceration rates for girls rising by more than 30 percent per year, said Vanessa Patino, senior research adviser at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

On Oct. 20, two girls were cited in Cape Girardeau for assault after getting into a fight at a local school, but not nearly as many girls were cited for assault so far this year as in 2007, Rhodes said.

Last year, there were more female assault offenders than male, he said.

Cape Girardeau's juvenile statistics have stayed within the range of the typical numbers for rural demographics, whereas in areas like St. Louis, female offenders make up a bigger portion of the juvenile population, Rhodes said.

Truancy and curfew violations still make up a significant portion of the female juvenile population. Boys tend to account for more of the stealing and property damage delinquency offenses, Rhodes said.

Less than 20 percent of the children younger than 15 arrested in 2008 in Cape Girardeau for stealing were girls. Between ages 15 and 18, however, 28 percent of the juveniles arrested for stealing were female.

Of all youth incarcerations, 42 percent of girls are 15 and younger, compared to 31 percent of boys 15 and younger, according to Patino.

Rhodes said typically, female offenders tend to commit offenses related to family problems, such as being reported as a runaway when they are simply living with an estranged parent who does not have custody.

So far in 2008, 48 percent of runaways younger than 18 in Cape Girardeau were girls, and in 2007, there were more runaways who were girls than boys.

It's not uncommon for a situation to arise with a girl refusing to go to school, and juvenile officers find it's part of a larger family-related argument, Rhodes said. In many of those situations, the court will order counseling.

"Give me a simple boy stealing a car any day," Rhodes said.

More girls attribute their juvenile delinquency record to assaults or problems arising from family-related conflict than boys do, Patino said.

"There are few programs addressing those issues," Patino said.

Because of the size of the holding cells at the Cape Girardeau Juvenile Detention Center, girls are usually transported to a separate facility in Charleston, Mo., if they need to be held for longer than 24 hours.

Rhodes described the facility in Cape Girardeau as a long cell block with 10 rooms, five on each side of the hall.

The Cape Girardeau facility is not designed for treatment, merely a temporary holding place for children pending their court date.

"We're bare bones. We provide classrooms for education and a bed to sleep in and as much food as they can eat, but we don't treat them," he said.

After their court appearances, they would be sentenced to a specific treatment facility of the Division of Youth Services.

One pattern that has emerged with boys and girls involves substance abuse, Rhodes said.

Every child is tested for the presence of drugs and alcohol in their system before being admitted to the Cape Girardeau County Juvenile Detention Center for the purpose of maintaining a safe environment, though they aren't cited if they test positive.

Girls tend to test positive for drug and alcohol usage more frequently than boys, and when they do, it's usually a cocktail of drugs, whereas boys are more likely to have just marijuana or alcohol in their system, Rhodes said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

388-3635

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