Edited by Margaret A. Zahn, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 360 pages, $54.50
If you are looking for an interesting and exciting read, then “The Delinquent Girl” is not for you. If you are looking for a densely packed, highly statistical, study-packed, overly exhaustive study of a growing and significant problem, then I would suggest you purchase this book. Since my first day in the criminal courts over 15 years ago (as a court attorney), I have noticed a vast increase in the number of female defendants. I was hopeful that this book would provide some reasons for this trend. It does not.
It does, however, offer study after study showing that female “delinquency” is on the rise. In fact, it “is estimated that there were over 640,000 arrests of females under eighteen in 2006.” In 1980, girls accounted for 18 percent of all juvenile arrests for index crimes (murder and non-negligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.) Today, girls account for 29 percent of such arrests. Some causes of this behavior are explored, but there are very few definitive answers, and few solutions are provided. However, the book clearly establishes that there is a problem and makes the case for even more studies.
I have no doubt that this book, which includes some very thorough work on girls’ delinquency in the field of criminology, will become a cited reference work for years to come. But that does not mean it is an “entertaining” or “easy” read.
‘The Delinquent Girl” is an evaluation of a significant problem, which attempts to identify and analyze girls who become delinquent, the types of crimes they commit, and the reasons they commit them. According to the editor, arrests were most common for minor crimes, particularly larceny-theft, simple assault, disorderly conduct, and other crimes that result from running away from home. The authors give an overview of the research on girls’ delinquency, discuss policy implications and then go on to point to areas where further research is critically needed. They offer no solutions. If the purpose of this book is to argue that we need more studies – it arguably succeeds in its mission.
The book begins with an examination of the major theories and explanations of female delinquency and considers the “gender gap” between male and female offenders. Other issues, such as the role of the juvenile justice system and changes in justice policies, are also addressed. The contributors use criminological and feminist theories to consider causes and implications of female juvenile delinquency.
Contributors include Robert Agnew, Angela Browne, Meda Chesney-Lind, Gayle A. Dakof, Barry C. Feld, Diana H. Fishbein, Peggy C. Giordano, Denise C. Gottfredson, Candace Kruttschnitt, Jody Miller, Shari Miller, Merry Morash, Christopher W. Mullins, Allison Ann Payne, Jennifer Schwartz, Darrell Steffensmeier, Donna-Marie Winn and the editor, Margaret A. Zahn.
Margaret A. Zahn is professor of sociology and criminology at North Carolina State University, and past president and fellow of the American Society of Criminology. She is principal investigator of the Girls Study Group, a major project funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, coordinated by RTI International, where she was a visiting scientist. She is the co-editor of several books including “Homicide: A Sourcebook of Social Research” (with M. Dwayne Smith).
The opening of “The Delinquent Girl” provides an overview of the research on girls’ delinquency and discuss policy implications. Robert Agnew wrote the first chapter. It focuses on “mainstream” theories of delinquency, such as strain, control, social learning, and integrate theories. Jody Miller and Christopher Mullins examine feminist theories of girls’ delinquency in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, Darrell Steffensmeier and Jennifer Schwartz provide an assessment of the extent of recent trends in girls’ delinquency and the gender gap. Diane Fishbein and others, in Chapter 4, focus on the effect of several major bio-psychological factors on girls’ delinquency.
In Chapter 5, Candace Kruttschnitt and Peggy Giordano examine the family factors associated with girl’s delinquency. In Chapter 6, Ms. Giordano reviews the influence of peers and romantic partners on delinquency.
Peer pressure within larger institutions, such as schools, are discussed and examined in Chapter 7. The entire community influence of peers and families are discussed in Chapter 8 while Chapter 9, authored by Merry Morash and Meda Chesney-Lind, analyzes the effect of violence on the community influence.
In Chapter 10, Jody Miller looks at the historical and current studies of female involvement in gangs. In the last chapter, Barry Feld analyzes how females are treated in the juvenile justice system.
The studies examined in the book seem to establish that increases in female participation are highest for larceny, alcohol/drug violations (DUI, drugs and liquor law violations), disorderly conduct, and “simple” assault. I was not surprised by these statistics, because I observe the same trend for female offenders every day, in my courtroom. But, it is also telling that girls are not “gaining” ground in homicide, rape, or robbery.
But there is always tomorrow . . .
Matthew A. Sciarrino is a Criminal Court judge in Staten Island.