Rehabilitation in the Age of Risk
In recent years, mainstream Canadian media has become increasingly preoccupied with girl violence, to such an extent that it seems as if the trend of teenaged girls committing crimes is on the rise. Christie Barron, in her latest book, Governing Girls, exposes how the media’s emphasis on female violence is not the outcome of more crimes, but rather a reflection of how the changes to the structural policies guiding the youth justice system have resulted in a greater-and more fearful-public consciousness of female youth offenders.
Barron argues that the shift in Canada’s youth justice system to a more actuarial style of justice has imposed myriad negative consequences upon at-risk girls. Skilfully, Barron provides a gendered critique of how at-risk females transgress tranditional gender boundaries. For example, the current youth justice system conceptualizes deliquent girls as those who engage in sexually immoral behaviour, run away from home and act out. Barron also shows how female aggression is understood largely in relation to male behaviour. Risky girls tend to be the ones who display hyper-masculine identities.
Barron takes the conversation beyond a gendered critique of what constitutes an at-risk profile by showing how racism plays out within the context of girl violence. As the current youth justice system is set up, the onus is on the individual to govern his or her own behaviour. In that process, according to Barron, entire systems of oppression, such as racism, are erased from the social consciousness of what factors influence deviant behaviour. Without understanding the social, political and economic contexts that shape female violence, the rehabilitiaion efforts to reform at-risk youth continue to fail.
Without doubt, Governing Girls is an insightful book. Although Barron could rely less on jargon to explain concepts such as risk and risk management, she nonetheless presents a fascinating critique of how Canada’s youth justice system is failing at-risk girls.-Katie Palmer, Herizons Spring 2012