Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Juvenile Delinquency and Teen Pregnancy

In recent years, there has been a significant reduction in crime generally when compared to crime rates in the 1980’s and 1990’s. While total crime rates have fallen, there has been a sharp increase in the number young women involved in the juvenile justice system. Increasingly, juvenile courts are dealing with young women who are pregnant and may also be suffering from a number of physical, behavioral or mental health issues. Handling these cases presents a unique challenge to juvenile courts and those in community supervision. One study conducted showed that 14 percent of girls were pregnant at the time of their detention. This is very concerning as many juvenile facilities lack prenatal or gynecological services needed by these young women.

Preventing Unplanned Pregnancies

Studies have shown that young women in the juvenile justice system are at a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy. Early parenthood has been shown to be associated with negative psychological, social and health outcomes for young mothers and their children. While annual pregnancy rates of American girls between 15 and 19 years old have fallen in recent years, it still remains high in comparison to other industrialized nations. Pregnancy rates are even higher among young women in the juvenile justice system. Preventing teenage pregnancy is a priority for many juvenile court systems. Many programs have been designed to ensure that minors are provided information, access, and tools needed to make healthy decisions about sexual health.

Equal Access to Care and Services for Pregnant Teens

Teen pregnancy is often viewed as a stigma and young women may go to great lengths to hide pregnancies or may not even recognize the fact that they are pregnant. Many organizations work hard to ensure that young women who are pregnant are provided the access to education, health and other programs and benefits.

Young women who are in custody are often denied appropriate prenatal or gynecological services and efforts have been made to make these types of medical services available to these women. Increasingly, juvenile courts throughout the nation are recognizing the harmful effects that detention in locked juvenile facilities has on juvenile offenders. This is especially true for pregnant offenders who may not receive adequate care and treatment while in custody.

Pregnant young women in the juvenile justice system may be placed on juvenile court probation where they would work closely with probation officers and other staff to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of the juvenile court. These young women will be given access to prenatal and medical services as well as parenting classes. They will be encouraged to finish their education and can be connected with a number of support agencies or organizations.

Pregnancy and Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, many of the pregnant young women in the juvenile justice system also have substance abuse issues. They may use or abuse drugs or alcohol which can lead to birth defects and a host of other issues. Efforts will be made to connect pregnant young women to appropriate drug and alcohol treatment services. In many cases, the juvenile court may require the minor to undergo regular drug testing or to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet that can measure drug or alcohol intake. These young women will be educated about the dangers of drug and alcohol consumption. Treatment is most effective when these young women go to female-only providers who understand how to effectively address the issues shared by pregnant teens.

Recent increases in opioid addictions among young people has led to more and more pregnant young women in juvenile court who are addicted to heroin or painkillers. These addictions can often be devastating and the court will go to great lengths to ensure that the minor maintains sobriety.

In many cases, young women may suffer from coexisting disorders and will require specialized treatment for addiction as well as for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or a number of other mental health disorders.