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Last Chance Ranch

Girls and the Juvenile Justice System is a new five-part series focusing on the harsh and difficult realities young girls face as they battle the complex justice system in the United States.

It begins with a look at the Florida Institute for Girls in West Palm Beach. The state opened the maximum-security facility three years ago, after seeing a sharp spike in the number of girls committing violent crimes. The detention center, which focuses on high-risk females with intensive mental health issues, is the last stop in the juvenile justice system before prison, says director Jacque Layne.

"Girls call it the last chance ranch, " Layne says. " If they can't make it here, they're not going to make it."

Many of the teenagers at the center committed serious violent crimes: car-jacking, armed robbery, aggravated battery, manslaughter. Some have been in and out of juvenile delinquency programs for years. Broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school and a family history of criminal activity are the norm. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on some of the girls' stories.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.