Girls in Justice

Juvenile Incarceration: Alternatives

Recorded January 15, 2021


Susan Breall

Roger Chan

Hongwei Zhang

Leonard Edwards

If you would like to ask any of our panelists a question, go to their bio page and click on Start a Conversation

As calls grow for more alternatives to locking children up, this webinar takes an in-depth look at what rehabilitation actually requires. Superior Court judges Susan Breall and Roger Chan give a joint presentation where they discuss the needs of young female offenders and new approaches that can bring about meaningful change. Dr. Zhang of Jinan University speaks on the issues facing girls in China, as well as recent reforms to China’s civil code that signal new advancements for girls in conflict with the law.

Following an introduction by moderator Judge Leonard Edwards, Judge Breall describes the failure of delinquency systems to rehabilitate girl offenders while stigmatizing them as criminals. Judge Chan provides statistics on the gender, ages, reasons for detention, and lengths of stays of juvenile offenders in San Francisco before both speak about the need for courts to act with more empathy, creativity, and insight when treating girls.

Recognizing that most girls in conflict with the law are dealing varying levels of trauma, they emphasize the need to treat girls in conflict with the law as survivors rather than offenders. Highlighting a survivor-centered approach vs. a trauma-based approach, Judges Breall and Chan emphasize the importance of community-based solutions that focus on agency, progress, honesty, and facilitating communication.

Dr. Zhang of the Juvenile & Family Law Research Center at Jinan University, China, focuses his presentation on rates of juvenile crime in China and recent reforms in China. His presentation details some changes to the civil code that are meant to improve family law. While noting the great progress that has been made, such as gender-sensitive approaches in law enforcement and detainment, he also identifies areas where improvement is still needed, such as helping “left-behind” children.

Here are some takeaways from the event:

“Most girls who are arrested are arrested for non‑violent, non‑serious crimes, but they have been victimized in very serious and violent ways before they ever come into the juvenile justice system or the dependency system. They’ve experienced enormous trauma. Many of them are victims of sexual assault of violence by family members, or they’ve been exposed to domestic violence in their families or [to] intimate partner violence before they ever ended up in the systems that we’re talking about.” – Judge Susan Breall

“In California in general, there’s been a shift, we’re trying to move more young women out of the punitive juvenile justice system and more into the social service side to receive services such as counseling and other support…to treat young women as survivors, as opposed to being offenders.” – Judge Roger Chan

“Based on the new revision of the juvenile delinquency prevention law of 2020, we really put a focus on the specialized school, which is really similar to the reforming school in the United States and in other jurisdictions. Under the new laws, the parents, the teachers, and the police officers could file applications to the Department of Education if they find some juveniles suspected of doing some status offense or minor crimes. They could be sent to the special school after the screening and the evaluation.” – Dr. Zhang Hongwe


Girl’s Court Recommendations: Gender-Specific Solutions
Alternatives to Incarceration in China
Relative Placement: Juvenile and Family
Girls in Conflict with the Law: Alternatives to Detention
Annotated Bibliography: Girls in Conflict with the Law