A report sponsored by the Howard League for Penal Reform, Inquiry on girls: From courts to custody, has found evidence of failures to identify and meet the needs of girls who come in contact with the criminal justice system. The report suggests that a penal system designed for males has lead to inequitable and harsh treatment of girls, which is further exacerbated by practitioners’ gender stereotypes in relation to norms of behaviour. One girl reported to the inquiry that the judge in her case stated that it was ‘unacceptable for a young woman to fight’, and many feel harshly treated compared to boys who commit similar crimes.
Although the number of girls in custody remain small, their experience of detention is characterised by more self-harm, more instances of being restrained and more segregation than boys. The Centre for Mental Health noted: “Most mixed custodial regimes (e.g. in secure training centres) can still be based on more male orientated need; some searching and control and restraint practices, for example, have been seen to be highly counterproductive for females with high histories of abuse and trauma leading to flashbacks and exacerbating distress”. The report calls for a more gender-specific approach to youth justice, and better use of programmes that are based on the needs of both boys and girls.