Staff Here Let You Get Down': The Cultivation and Co-Optation of Violence in a California Juvenile Detention Center

Jerry Flores, University of Washington Tacoma


Girls today are more likely to be arrested for violent behavior than in previous decades. In the United States more girls are also serving time in secured detention for violent offenses than in years past. While scholars have explored changes in institutional responses to girls’ violent behavior, few have considered how institutions like detention centers actively promote violence among girls. In this article, I provide an ethnographic account of how violence among girls is cultivated in one juvenile detention center in California. Drawing on field research conducted over sixteen months, I illustrate how correctional officers and other staff encourage, condone, and co-opt violence among girls. Staff members use fights and girls’ reputations as fighters to achieve the organizational goals of maintaining safety, security, and order in the institution. This account encourages researchers and scholars to move beyond popular discussions of what some describe as the new violent girl. Instead, scholars should critically consider the contradictions around, and consequences of, punishment for girls in detention.