'Ice' use and depression more common in isles' girl inmates
Male youth offenders tend toward felonies, new studies find
FEMALE juvenile offenders in Hawaii are more likely to be crystal methamphetamine users, depressed and suicidal compared to their male counterparts, according to two new state studies released yesterday.
Girls that have become part of the state's juvenile justice system also are more likely to run away, while boys are more likely to be arrested for serious felonies and wind up in custody, the studies indicate.
The statistics paint a picture of a youthful offender population in Hawaii that oftentimes requires help as opposed to strict incarceration, said Lisa Pasko, a research analyst with the Attorney General's Office.
In many cases, "just by punishing them is not going to help," she said.
Sharon Agnew, executive director of the state Office of Youth Services, agreed.
"We've come out of the age of correction where we just lock kids up and throw away the key," Agnew said. "We're here to rehabilitate kids and hopefully prevent them from even getting in the system in the first place."
Agnew's office oversees the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, the state's only youth prison, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years over the conditions for incarcerated juveniles.
The state had faced two lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union alleging unduly harsh conditions at the Kailua lockup.
Earlier this year, the state entered into an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to improve conditions at the facility, after the federal agency issued its own report stating that inadequate policies and procedures, staffing shortages and deficient training for guards had led to a "state of chaos."
Agnew said the new studies will be used by her department to try to direct funding toward community programs to help youths on the "front end" to try to keep them out of the justice system altogether.
She said the reports also indicate how the state can better serve male and female offenders.
"It's a start in the right direction of looking at how issues for girls are different than for boys," she said.
She said the ice use and depression rates between the two sexes surprised her the most.
According to the studies:
» 23 percent of juvenile girl offenders were more likely to be frequent crystal methamphetamine users, compared to 17 percent of boys.
» 28 percent of girls reported a history of depression, compared to 14 percent for boys.
» 35 percent of girls had a record of at least one suicide attempt, compared to 12 percent for boys.
» 77 percent of boys and 76 percent of girls experienced academic failure, defined as going at least one semester with no academic credits.
The studies looked at case files of 271 young offenders, who were either on probation or committed to the youth prison at least once in calendar year 2004.