Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Abraham S. Fischler College of Education


Marcelo Castro

Committee Member

Lawanda Ravoira

Committee Member

Angela Yehl


As girls are becoming a rising share of the juvenile justice population, responses have not focused on applying the pathways research and context for girls’ offenses. This study examined the ways girls described the context for their justice system involvement (arrest, probation, court). Using grounded theory, this research elevates the experiences of 32 participants, girls ages 13-18 who were incarcerated in commitment programs in Florida.

The findings of this grounded theory suggest that the gendered context of girls’ system involvement includes her lived experiences, coping strategies, delinquent behaviors, as well as her system experiences. Regardless of her path into the juvenile justice system, the common theme shared by girls was unfairness in the process and feeling judged or silenced. This theoretical framework provides further evidence that when the context of girls’ experiences are not taken into account and coping behaviors are criminalized, further disconnection, distrust and gendered strain are experienced by the girls. Experiencing additional strain from people who she believes have power to make decisions (e.g., child welfare investigators, police, defense attorneys, probation officers, judges) is an added layer to understand her gendered experience. The emerging theory places girls and their reactions to system experiences at the center of the gendered context theory equation. The theory can be further tested to see if the extent of disconnect between girls’ expectations and system response impacts girls outcomes and if there are differences by gender. Given the context of girls’ lived experiences, the findings have critical implications for further research, new measures of gendered strain, and challenge systems to assess the impact of their policies, practices, and training of decision-makers.

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