Hawaii Girls Court aspires to keep young women in the juvenile system from returning to trouble’s door. With this in mind, on June 16 the court recently flew eight girls and four court officials from Oahu to Maui for a three-day, two-night hike in the Haleakala crater. Plunking the group down in one of the island’s most serene and environmentally sensitive areas may seem like an unusual way to combat recidivism, but the outreach program is dedicated to strengthening the participants instead of merely correcting them.
“I learned that I really was blind from the start,” said one participant in a July 2 Haleakala National Park news release. “I was so busy with everything that was going on I forgot about the beauty in life.”
The wilderness immersion program produced a number of other benefits, including meaningful relationships, modesty and a sense of accomplishment as the girls hiked over eight miles of rugged terrain, which involved 2,000 feet of elevation change. On top of this feat, the group cooked their own food and removed invasive plants around the Silversword Loop Trail.
“My greatest experience at Haleakala was being able to live with no electricity or very little water,” one participant said. “It helped me to connect with everyone better and see what it’s like to live without those things.”
The National Park Service funded the trip, enabling the group to learn about Hawaiian species and ecology, Hawaiian culture and even themselves from (female) National Park Service staff.
The “strength-based model” the Girls Court operates on proves to be successful in its statistics, showing a 47 percent drop in crime relapse. This percentage also accounted for 60 percent less runaways and 63 percent less arrests. Many of the female offenders in the court are victims of physical or sexual abuse and physical violence, so the program incorporates open court sessions, offenders/parents groups, group activities, mental health services, education and employment guidance, community service projects, and cross-system training to guide the girls back on the right track. The programs have been much more effective than the traditional punishment of confinement in a Detention Home, repairing relationships with girls and their families.
The Girls Court labels itself as a “laboratory court” for its experimental nature, one of the first of its kind in the nation according to the Hawaii Girls Court website. With the female adolescent arrest rate in Hawaii higher than the national average, a new approach had to be taken. The gender-specific treatment the girls have received impacted the offenders much more since the court “address[es] the unique needs of girls.”
For more information check out Girlscourt.org.
Photo of Hawaii Girls Court participants on switchback trail courtesy Haleakala National Park