Justice for Girls? Stability and Change in the Youth Justice Systems of the United States and Canada
by Jane B. Sprott and Anthony N. Doob, foreword by Franklin E. Zimring
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-77004-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-77006-2
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226770062.001.0001


For over a century, as women have fought for and won greater freedoms, concern over an epidemic of female criminality, especially among young women, has followed. Fear of this crime wave—despite a persistent lack of evidence of its existence—has played a decisive role in the development of the youth justice systems in the United States and Canada. Justice for Girls? is a comprehensive comparative study of the way these countries have responded to the hysteria over “girl crime” and how it has affected the treatment of both girls and boys.

Tackling a century of historical evidence and crime statistics, Jane B. Sprott and Anthony N. Doob carefully trace the evolution of approaches to the treatment of young offenders. Seeking to keep youths out of adult courts, both countries have built their systems around rehabilitation. But, as Sprott and Doob reveal, the myth of the “girl crime wave” led to a punitive system where young people are dragged into court for minor offenses and girls are punished far more severely than boys. Thorough, timely, and persuasive, Justice for Girls? will be vital to anyone working with troubled youths.


Jane B. Sprott is associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at Ryerson University. Anthony N. Doob is professor at the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto and coauthor of Responding to Youth Crime in Canada.


“This heartbreakingly beautiful book troubles the terrain, unforgettably challenging our stereotypes of ‘bad girls’ who become delinquent. Sprott and Doob persuasively make the case that the justice system treats girls differently, and that the treatment—for those who enter the system—is unfair, damaging, and unsuccessful. But they also present a remarkably hopeful constellation of opportunities to do less harm.”
— Bernardine Dohrn, Northwestern University School of Law

“Sprott and Doob use historical data, transnational comparisons, and analysis of differences across age to explode the myth that serious offending has increased among girls and to document the complexities of the last century of status offender reforms in the United States and Canada. The authors painstakingly unearth veins of promising approaches in both countries that should be mined by policymakers and practitioners who are concerned with treating girls fairly and justly.”
— Robert G. Schwartz, executive director, Juvenile Law Center

“An impressive piece of work. Comparisons of crime and justice in Canada and the United States are notoriously difficult, but this book makes it look easy. I put it down to the authors’ meticulous analyses of statistics, always alert to their pitfalls, and to their grasp of the larger themes, which transcend national boundaries. I found particularly interesting and enlightening their argument that administrative offenses are the new incarnation of the supposedly abandoned status offenses, and, as such, represent a subtle or not-so-subtle form of discrimination against girls.”--Peter Carrington, University of Waterloo
— Peter Carrington


Foreword by Franklin E. Zimring


1. Criminal Girls and Girls in Youth Justice

2. Are Sugar and Spice Really Evolving into Snips and Snails and Puppy-Dog Tails?

3. Paternalism and the Social Control of Adolescent Girls: Juvenile Justice Reform in the United States

4. Paternalism and the Social Control of Adolescent Girls: Juvenile Justice Reform in Canada

5. The Impact of Law Reform: Deinstitutionalization in Law and Practice in the United States

6. The Impact of Law Reform: Deinstitutionalization in Law and Practice in Canada

7. Continuity and Change in Justice for Girls