Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Gang Involvement Prevention
  3. Girls, Juvenile Delinquency, and Gangs

Girls, Juvenile Delinquency, and Gangs

While female juvenile justice system involvement is the lowest it has been since the 1970s and females make up a little less than 10 percent of the overall gang population, research suggests that girls may account for between one-fourth and one-half of the gang members in younger adolescent gangs.1 Overall, female gang members appear to be more heavily represented in gangs located outside of large cities, with half of gangs located in these areas reporting female members, compared to large cities, where about a quarter of gangs located in larger cities report female members.2

While the types of delinquent acts that girls in gangs commit are often less severe than boys, their involvement with gangs is still a concern and demands unique prevention, response, and rehabilitation efforts.3 Research on this topic has identified key factors that are significantly correlated with girls’ delinquency including gang involvement:

Risk Factors include:

  • As girls mature through adolescence they face an increased chance of experiencing risk factors for gang involvement and delinquency, such as physical and sexual abuse and assault, and have higher rates of diagnosed depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. A violent family environment where there is parental substance abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse is also a significant predictor of gang involvement for female youth. 4
  • A lack of family supervision and monitoring has been shown to have a causal link to delinquency for both boys and girls, but ineffective parenting practices (harsh or inconsistent discipline), family conflict, growing up in poverty, a lack of a consistent caregiver, and frequent family moves are more likely to affect the chance that girls will be involved in gangs and conduct delinquent acts.
  • Early dating has been established as a key risk factor for girls’ gang membership. 5
  • A lack of connection or engagement with school is correlated with increased rates of delinquency for girls. 6 Other school related factors such as low academic performance or academic failure, low educational aspirations, frequently getting into trouble at school, and negative labeling are all correlated with gang involvement for girls, and these factors may be more significant predictors of involvement than for boys. 7

Protective factors for girls and boys alike include:

  • A strong attachment or connection with school and high educational aspirations and self-esteem are key protective factors against gang involvement, particularly for girls.
  • Not living with a gang member is a protective factor for youth gang membership. 8
  • Positive feelings toward self and towards parents have been found to be protective factors that decrease likelihood of gang involvement. 9
  • Strong parental supervision of youth behavior and choice of friends is an important protective factor against gang violence. 10

As a result, it is important to ensure services targeted at young women include trauma-informed approaches (particularly since they may be more likely than their male counterparts to experience certain risk factors such as sexual abuse), provide adequate mental health services, focus on school connectedness, and address family relationships.


Gender-Specific Programming
This resource provides a comprehensive summary about girls and delinquency and their involvement in the juvenile justice system. It also covers more in-depth information about how girls develop differently than boys, how this affects their experiences with the juvenile justice system, and why services need to be tailored to their needs. Evaluation of gender-specific programming has shown encouraging results in substance use and gang prevention programs for girls.

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System
This report presents a detailed summary of current statistics for female youth involvement in the juvenile justice system. Included are analyses of trends for: female youth arrest rates, residential placement, types of offenses committed, girls’ involvement in the system across racial/ethnic lines, and formal adjudication process for female youth.


1 Ehrman, Hyland, Puzzanchera, 2019; National Gang Center, 2012; Howell, 2007
2 National Gang Center, 2012
3 Petersen & Howell, 2013
4 Peterson, 2012
5 Thornberry et al., 2003
6 Zahn et al., 2010
7 Peterson, 2012; Thornberry et al., 2003; Erhman, Hyland, & Puzzanchera, 2019
8 Erhman, Hyland, & Puzzanchera, 2019
9 Krohn, Lizotte, Bushway, et al., 2014
10 Krohn, Lizotte, Bushway, et al., 2014; Erhman, Hyland, & Puzzanchera, 2019

Other Resources on this Topic


Videos & Podcasts

Youth Briefs

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