Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime
Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

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Session 5: It’s different for girls?


One of the enduring features of criminal justice systems is that they deal largely with men and men’s offending behaviour. Throughout the world, over 90 per cent of prison populations are composed of men. In the UK, females comprise less than five per cent of young people in custody (YJB, 2019) although they constitute 49 per cent of the general population. This means that most of our knowledge about how to work most effectively with young people to help them stop committing crime comes from work with young men.

Under-representation or over-representation on this scale in many areas of social policy and government provision of services would normally set alarm bells ringing. Is there an issue of unfair or unreasonable discrimination at work? Should there be targets to achieve parity in youth custody so that there are the same numbers of young women in custody as there are young men? Thankfully, no one is suggesting this because most people understand that issues about gender are more complicated than simple symmetry and that equality does not mean treating all people the same.

Understanding the differences between girls’ and young women’s experience of crime and youth justice is the focus of this session. It will examine how girls and young women fare in youth justice systems and procedures where they are often a small minority compared to boys and young men. This session will introduce you to how youth justice systems work with girls and young women.

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Session 5 introduction
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By the end of this session, you should be able to:

  • identify ways in which girls’ and young women’s experience of crime and youth justice may be different to that of boys and young men
  • recognise when and how these differences are significant and what is being done to address them
  • understand how gender stereotypes impact on youth justice practice.

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