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Getting in With the Juvenile Justice System

Posted on January 9, 2008

Offer expertise and service, says Barbara J. Guthrie (bio), and you'll find entrance into the justice system.


It started with a grant that I got from the National Institute for Drug Abuse, which I was looking at girls and substance use. And so I was collecting data about girls and their experience of substance use. And in that, I was presenting at a conference, and some people came up to me and said, “We’ve got girls.” And I’m like, “Oh, where are they?” And they said, “In the juvenile justice system.” And I’m like, “Hmm.”

So I contacted them, and they were in Florida. Florida is one of the few states that has a gender-responsive mandate. So we started in Miami and went all the way up to Jackson collecting data from girls in the juvenile justice system.

And when I say that, it’s girls that have come in contact with the juvenile justice system. And part of the sentencing either was to come to PACE Program, because it’s a diversional program or to be sentenced. And so most of the girls opted for PACE. So they had 18 sites at that time, and we interviewed them. So I collected the data and, through that, got in well with the juvenile justice system.

So it was girls and then girls in the juvenile justice system. From there, I presented at one of their conferences, and a group of people from Baltimore said, “Why not come to Baltimore?” So I went to Baltimore and collected data. And then somebody from Massachusetts said, “Why not come?” so it kind of just mushroomed. And for me, it kind of fulfills my passion of making a difference with girls, both now and in the next generation.

And unbeknownst to me, I didn’t realize how many girls were in the juvenile justice system. And as you probably know, it’s a disproportionate number of young girls of color in the juvenile justice system. And it just opened up my eyes to the disparities that occur, both coming in and within the sentencing process. And so it’s really moved me differently in that it’s kind of the forgotten children.

I just volunteered to work with them on gender-responsive kind of activities. So providing a service that you see as a gap, and especially in nursing and health care, that’s a big gap.

So I contacted the people at the state department and talked to them about what I did, sent them my CV, and said, “Whatever I can do to help facilitate young people’s health, please call me.” So they first sent me a program to critique, and I critiqued that, invited me to attend a girls network thing, so I did that. So it’s going without any anticipation of getting anything in return.

And I think that’s the key. If I just went in and said I wanted to do research, I’m sure that all the doors would have closed. But I went in and said, “This is what I have a history of doing, this is what I’d like to do here, so let me tell you what I can offer you.”

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Excerpted from interview with researcher September 2007.

PACE Center for Girls


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