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Criminal Justice & Legal System

'Girls Court' launched by Kent County Circuit Court

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A Girls Court has been established in Michigan's 17th Circuit Court. The goal is to do a better job of helping girls who are most at risk to return successfully to their communities, according to Family Division Judge Patricia Gardner.

Gardner said the current model of juvenile justice is aimed at boys and doesn't work well for girls.

"This Girls Court model says, 'Look, girls are different than boys.' And to be successful in intervening in the life of a girl, you can't use a boys' model," Gardner said. "You need to use a different model to help these young women to be successful and to not throw them back to the community without addressing the underlying trauma that they have endured."

"These girls have often had issues with rape, or sexual exploitation, human trafficking, prostitution, sexual abuse issues," said Gardner.

The Girls Court provides intensive, comprehensive services to the girls, that include individual therapy, mentoring, parent education with a focus on parenting a child who has experienced trauma, incentives, and multiple group activities,  such as team athletic events or college tours.

Gardner said the coordinated team involved in the Girls Court is all female, and includes the judge, probation officer, therapist, defense attorney, surveillance staff, and mentors. She said she aims to be "tough," but also "fair and encouraging."

"We think that these young girls require positive modeling of strong women, who can see in them positive skill sets and encourage them," said Gardner.

The Girls Court was launched 3 weeks ago with an initial group of four girls.  The group will cap at 12 girls. The group of girls participates in Girls Court for four months and appears before Gardner every two weeks. At the end of the four month period, Gardner said a girl might be discharged from probation or returned to community probation.