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University of Oregon, Cal State researchers focus on keeping girls out of jail

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(The Center Square) — Despite the fact that American men are eight times more likely than women to be incarcerated at least once in their lifetimes, new federally-funded research says we should focus on women whose “involvement with the U.S. justice system is growing at a faster rate than men’s.”

Adolescence is the best time to intervene with young women who have had repeated run-ins with the U.S. juvenile justice system to find a different path, according to research from the University of Oregon by faculty members in the UO’s College of Education and at California State University Los Angeles which recently appeared in Frontiers in Psychology.

“In one of the longest ongoing intervention studies focused on delinquency in women, researchers from the UO’s College of Education and its Prevention Science Institute followed the same group of women over two decades, to their mid-30s,” the University of Oregon explained. “The women were in their midteens and heavily involved in Oregon’s juvenile justice system when they started participating in the research, initially through the Oregon Social Learning Center, a nonprofit research center based in Eugene.”

Nearly three-quarters of these women, once they became adults, were still involved with the justice system, and over one-third of them had been to jail or prison.

Researchers found that, on average, the women last interacted with the justice system at 22 years old.

“Adolescence is a pivotal time to provide the support and services that can lead to sustained changes into adulthood,” Leslie Leve, one of the researchers and department head for counseling psychology and human services in the UO’s College of Education, said in a release. “Teens are undergoing tremendous changes in brain, social, and personal development. They are our future employee base and future leaders. For the health of our society, it is important to invest in their growth and well-being.”

Other authors of the study include Maria Schweer-Collins, a research assistant professor at the UO’s College of Education and the Prevention Science Institute, and Carly Dierkhising, associate professor of criminal justice at California State University Los Angeles.

The research examines 27 years of data and offers an opportunity to see the lives of various women featured in the study unfold.

“If we had ended the study when the participants reached their early 20s, the conclusion would have been more somber: Three out of four of these women who were involved in the juvenile justice system as teens continued to be involved with the justice system as adults,” Schweer-Collins said. “But because we continued to follow them, we see that for many, their life takes a turn.”

Future research will look at the factors that allowed many women to “become disentangled from the criminal justice system,” Schweer-Collins said.

Grants from the National Institute of Justice and the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this research.

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