The Detention Diversion Advocacy Project and Girls*


Randall G. Shelden





The data to be discussed here are part of a larger project during which a diversion program in San Francisco, known as the Detention Diversion Advocacy Project (DDAP), was evaluated by the author (Shelden, 1997).  What will be summarized here are data pertaining to the general issue of gender and its relationship to various outcome variables. 

The evaluation consisted of comparing two groups of juvenile offenders who had been arrested and placed in detention during 1993 and 1994.  The experimental group consisted of those referred to the DDAP program, while the control group remained within the juvenile justice system.  Follow-up period was three years.  The data from the two samples were made available from print-outs obtained from the San Francisco Department of Juvenile Probation.  Systematic random sampling techniques were used to select the control and DDAP group for comparison.  A printout showing selected socio-demographic and legal variables was obtained for all youths who spent three or more days in detention during the calendar year 1994.  Originally, only DDAP referrals during 1994 were to be used (n=189), but it was decided to draw additional names from referrals during the second half of 1993 in order to have a larger sample.  A total of 271 from each group were eventually selected (total n = 542).  Each of the printouts contained such information as referral data, age, race, gender, prior referrals (including the charges), prior risk scores, prior placements, subsequent referrals (including the charges), subsequent placements, and subsequent petitions.

Additional information was obtained for the DDAP sample through intake forms that are filled out for each client by a case worker (unfortunately time did not permit collecting this information for the control group).  The type of information available on these intake forms include neighborhood, highest grade completed, number of times expelled or suspended, whether or not the youth is attending, parents living with youth or not, drug usage, and several poverty indicators (e.g., living in public housing, receiving welfare assistance, etc.).  

The major concepts used in this study were operationalized as follows.  First, the dependent variable in the study was recidivism and this was operationally defined as a referral to the juvenile court on a new offense (technical violations, if not accompanied by a specific delinquent charge, were not counted as recidivists) subsequent to the original referral to either DDAP or to the control group. Other measures of recidivism were also used, including subsequent petitions and subsequent out-of-home placements.

Among the most important independent variables included the nature of previous offenses for those with prior referrals.  This was operationalized as (1) serious violent (robbery, murder, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, etc.), (2) serious other (burglary, grand theft, drugs, etc.),  (3) minor offenses (e.g., petty larceny, simple assault, disturbing the peace, status offenses), and (4) technical offenses (e.g., violating a court order).

Another key independent variable was risk scores which were listed on various print-outs of data compiled by the Juvenile Probation Department.  These were divided into four major categories: (1) under 10, (2) 10-14, (3) 15-19, (4) 20 or more.  To simplify analysis risk scores were treated as dichotomous variables as follows: low risk (scores of under 10) or high risk (scores of 10 or higher), because according to the risk assessment form used (which was originally designed by NCCD and is used throughout the country) a score of 10 or more indicates that the youth is either a "danger to himself or others" or is likely to "abscond" or "without adequate adult supervision" and is ordered to remain in detention. 


1.  Comparing Males and Females

Both the control and experimental groups consisted of 271 cases for a total of 542.  Girls comprised a total of 105 subjects (19.4%), while boys comprised 437 of the total subjects.  Among the DDAP cases, girls constituted a total of 43 (representing 41% of all girls in both samples and 16% of all DDAP cases).

As noted in Table 1, while there were some important differences, for the most part males and females did not differ very much.  The differences included referral age, risk scores, the nature of prior offenses and subsequent petitions.  Girls were more likely than boys to be younger (about one-third of the girls were 14 or younger, compared to 18.5% of the boys), they were more likely to have low risk scores (38% vs. 28% for the boys), which may be related to the nature of previous offenses for girls.  The prior offenses for girls were significantly more likely to be of a minor nature (mostly shoplifting and status offenses).

Boys and girls did not differ in terms of race, whether or not they had any prior referrals and prior out-of-home placements.  Recidivism rates did not vary according to gender, no matter how this was defined.  Thus, both boys and girls were about as equally as likely to be serious recidivists (see definition above), have two or more subsequent referrals, have at least one subsequent out-of-home placement and a subsequent referral for a violent crime (most of these, incidentally were simple assaults).

2.  Comparison of DDAP and Control Groups for Girls Only

As noted in Table 2, when looking at girls only and comparing the DDAP group with the control group, we find few statistically significant differences.  However, what is noteworthy is that the control group did have a somewhat higher overall recidivism rate (48% vs. 30%) and a slightly higher rate of serious recidivism.  What was statistically significant was that the DDAP group was more likely to have high risk scores than the control group (78.8% vs. 53.2%). This may have something to do with the fact that the DDAP girls were more likely to have had previous out-of-home placements (one-third did, compared to only 13% of the control group).  What is important to note here is the fact that so many of these girls had only minor prior offenses (31%), although girls referred for minor offenses were no more likely than boys with similar charges to receive out-of-home placements.  The majority of those receiving placements had been charged with a serious offense. 

Another significant finding was that the control group was far more likely to have two or more subsequent referrals (43.5% vs. 11.6%).  In other words, while the overall recidivism rates were not statistically significant (including no differences as far as serious and minor recidivists are concerned), it appears that the DDAP girls had only one subsequent appearance in court, if they returned at all.

3.  Comparison of DDAP and Control Groups for Boys Only

Table 3 shows a comparison of the DDAP and control group for boys only.  As with girls, one of the most significant relationships concerned risk scores and prior placements.  For the DDAP group the risk scores were considerably higher, as 85% had scores of 10 or higher, compared with only 61% of the control group.  Viewed somewhat differently, the control group was twice as likely to have low risk scores.  Nevertheless, the recidivism rates were considerably higher for the control group.  The total recidivism rate was 35% for the DDAP group and 64% for the control group;  the serious recidivism rate for the control was double that for the DDAP group.

Other indications of recidivism further point to the differences between the two groups.  First, the control group boys were more three times as likely as the DDAP group to have two or more subsequent referrals.  Second, the control group was significantly more likely to be referred on a charge of violence and to have subsequent petitions.  Third, although not statistically significant, the control group was slightly more likely to have subsequent placements.

4.  Socio-demographic factors: gender differences for the DDAP group

As noted earlier, more detailed information was available from the intake files of the first full year of DDAP's existence (n=189).  A comparison of boys and girls revealed literally no significant differences in terms of socio-demographic variables.  For instance, while 76% of the girls came from single-parent families (mostly female-headed), so did 72% of the boys.  There was a small difference in school attendance, but not statistically significant (55% of the boys and 45% of the girls were attending at the time of the referral to DDAP).  While girls were slightly more likely to have been either suspended or expelled from school (36% vs. 29% of the boys), this relationship was not statistically significant.  There was virtually no difference between boys and girls as far as drug use was concerned, as just over half of each group had used drugs at least once (55% of the boys and 52% of the girls).  There was a slight difference in the proportion living in poverty (49% of the girls vs. 39% of the boys), but this was not statistically significant.  Also, no racial differences existed and there were no significant neighborhood differences.


Although there were some significant gender differences when considering both samples together, when looking closely at girls and boys separately, it appears that the impact of the DDAP program was greater for boys than for girls.  Indeed, the recidivism rates among the boys were significantly different for the DDAP and control groups.  DDAP boys fared much better than control group boys.  Although girls in the control group did have a higher recidivism rate (48% vs. 30%), this relationship was not statistically significant.  This could stem from the relatively small number of girls in the total sample (n=105).  On the other hand, control group girls were far more likely to have two or more subsequent referrals.  Thus, while the DDAP girls were not likely to be prevented from returning to the court once, the extent to which they remained within the system (measured by the total number of subsequent referrals) was diminished as a result of their participation in the program.

However, the far greater impact of the DDAP program for the boys does raise some concerns.  It could be because of the relatively short supply of programs that address the unique needs of girls.  A 1996 report on programs for girls in San Francisco noted that while women and girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population in that city, they "are all but invisible in terms of programs and statistics" (Schaffner et al., 1996:1).  Apparently not much had changed in San Francisco since a 1992 study concluded that, after a survey of 154 service providers, the needs of young women in the juvenile justice system are "unexamined, untreated, and invalidated by both the system charged with serving them and by their own community and family support structures (Delinquency Prevention Commission, 1992:3).  This same report further noted that: "These institutions fail to develop a diversity of placement options for girls, to encourage and contract with community-based programs targeting the needs of girls, even to collect information on who the girls are, what they need, and what worked to meet such needs" (Ibid., p. 8).

Commenting on recent claims that women have achieved equality, Susan Faludi, in her national best-seller Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991), asks "If American women are so equal, why do they represent two-thirds of all poor adults? Why are nearly 75 percent of full-time working women making less than $20,000 a year, nearly double the male rate? Why are they still far more likely than men to live in poor housing and receive no health insurance, and twice as likely to draw no pension?... [W]hy are nearly 80 percent of working women still stuck in traditional `female' jobs..."(p. xiii)  She further notes that women's status has declined significantly since the Reagan years, since the budget cuts "pushed nearly 2 million female-headed families and nearly 5 million women below the poverty line.  And the prime target of government rollbacks has been one sex only: one-third of the Reagan budget cuts, for example, came out of programs that predominantly serve women." (p. xvii).

If this is the current situation for women in general, why should it surprise us to find that the situation is equally as bad, if not worse, for adolescent women?  The fact of the matter is that in our society, it appears that women are second-class citizens and that, for all practical purposes, their needs are not very important.  Why then should it surprise us that when girls come face-to-face with the juvenile justice system, they fare about the same as their adult counterparts throughout society?  An exhaustive study of available programming for girls by Chesney-Lind and Shelden (1998) concluded that while much progress has been made during the past ten years or so, effective delinquency prevention programs even for boys are scarce.  When girls are added to this already bleak situation, things appear much worse.  Chesney-Lind and Shelden note that "the forces that bring girls into the juvenile justice system present challenges and issues that service providers are only now acknowledging" (p. 236). The authors conclude that (p. 237):

Certain themes emerge from the small number of innovative programs. First, if counseling is to be included--and it should be part of a solid program for girls, it must be sensitive to issues such as sexual abuse, rape (including date rape), violence in teenage sexual relationships, and the special problems that girls face (particularly those who are parents) in housing and employment. Second, the program should go past counseling per se to the areas of skill building, particularly in the employment area. Third, the program should meet the needs of girls who cannot safely return to their families. In this regard, we should focus on the urgent need for teens to have access to medical, dental, educational, and housing resources. As a society, we have been reluctant to provide long-term, stable solutions to the problems of teens in conflict with their families. The consequence has been a paucity of effective services for an estimated 133,500 runaway and 59,200 throwaway youth, many of whom are girls.


While the DDAP program shows a great deal of promise - for both boys and girls - it is strongly recommended that additional research be done on this program, research that will include a much larger sample of girls. Specifically, subsequent research should be conducted that would include in-depth interviews of samples of program participants and family members, DDAP case workers and heads of agencies whose programs DDAP clients were referred to.  Larger samples from both DDAP and control groups should be drawn and studied.  Also, sampled cases should be followed up to their adult years to find out how many became adult offenders, especially those who ended up incarcerated in adult institutions. What did their case workers do? In short, what did DDAP do on behalf of these youths that are not normally done for them?  And what sorts of programs are the girls referred to and what is the impact of such programs?


 Table 1.  Comparing Gender with Selected Variables


Male                Female             Significance

             (n=437)           (n=105)



DDAP                                                              52.2%              41.0%

Control                                                             47.8                 59.0                 p. <.05


Referral Age


14 and under                                        18.5%              32.4%

15 and older                                         81.5                 67.6                 P. <.01




White                                                   13.0%              11.4%

Black                                                   52.6                 62.9

Other                                                   34.3                 25.7                 ns


Risk Scores


Low (under 10)                                    27.5%              37.9%

High (10 or more)                                 72.5                 62.1                 p. <.05


Prior Referrals                                                  64.1%              59.0%              ns


Nature of priors

Serious violence                                    43.2%              35.5%

Serious other                                        42.1                 33.9

Minor (including status)                         14.7                 30.6                 p. <.05


Prior placements                                               21.5%              21.0%              ns


Recidivism rate: Total                                        48.7%              41.0% 

Serious Recidivist                                 35.5                 31.4                

Minor Recidivist                                   13.3                   9.5                 ns


Two or more subsequent referrals                     32.7%              30.5%              ns


Subsequent Placements                                     21.5%              19.0%              ns


Subsequent referrals, violent crime                    18.1%              12.4%              ns


Subsequent petitions                                         37.8%              26.7%              p. <.05


Table 2.  Comparison of DDAP and Control Groups, Girls Only (n=105).


DDAP              Control Significance



Prior referrals                                                   55.8%              61.3%              ns


Nature of Priors


Serious violence                                    16.3%              24.2%

Serious other                                        25.6                 16.1

Minor (including status)                         14.0                 21.0                 ns


Prior placements                                               32.6%              12.9%              p. <.05


Risk Scores


Low (under 10)                                    21.2%              46.8%

High (10 or more)                                 78.8                 53.2                 p. <.05


Recidivism rate                                    

Total                                                    30.2%              48.4% 

Serious Recidivist                                 23.3                 37.1

Minor Recidivist                                   7.0                  11.3                 ns


Two or more subsequent referrals                     11.6%              43.5%              p. <.001  

Subsequent placements                         18.6%              19.4%              ns


Subsequent referrals, violent crime                    11.6%              12.9%              ns


Subsequent petitions                                         20.9%              30.6%              ns



Table 3.  Comparison of DDAP and Control Groups, Boys Only (n=437).



DDAP              Control Significance


Prior referrals                                                   64.5%              63.6%              ns


Nature of Priors


Serious violence                                    24.6%              32.1%

Serious other                                        28.9                 25.8

Minor (including status)                         11.4                 7.7                  ns


Prior placements                                               26.3%              16.3%              p. <.05


Risk Scores


Low (under 10)                                    14.9%              38.8%

High (10 or more)                                 85.1                 61.2                 p. <.001


Recidivism rate

Total                                                    35.1%              63.6% 

Serious Recidivist                                 23.7                 48.3

Minor Recidivist                                   11.4                 15.3                 p. <.001


Two or more subsequent referrals                     14.9%              52.2%              p. <.001  

Subsequent placements                          18.0%              25.4%              ns


Subsequent referrals, violent crime                    8.8%               28.2%              p. <.001


Subsequent petitions                                         24.1%              52.9%              p. <.001







Chesney-Lind, M. and R. G. Shelden. 1998.  Girls, Delinquency and Juvenile Justice (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


Delinquency Prevention Commission.  1992.  "Findings and Recommendations on the Needs of Women and Girls in the Justice System."  San Francisco: Come Into the Sun Coalition, Commission on the Status of Women.


Faludi, S.  1991. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women.  New York:  Crown Publishers.


Schaffner, L., S. Shick, and A. D. Shorter. 1996.  "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Plight of Adolescent Girls in the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center."  San Francisco: Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.


Shelden, R. G. 1997. “Detention Diversion Advocacy: an Evaluation.”  OJJDP Juvenile Justice

            Bulletin (September). ( 


 *  This was originally written in June, 1998