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New group helping at-risk girls to be named after former Jaguars owner Delores Weaver

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center | October 11, 2013

By Matt Soergel Wed, Oct 10, 2012 @ 4:49 pm | updated Thu, Oct 11, 2012 @ 6:29 am | Full story here

Delores Weaver is lending her name to a new group in Jacksonville that will advocate for girls tangled up in the juvenile justice system.

The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center aims to be a national model in how to help at-risk girls — many of whom have experienced sexual or physical abuse — before and after they get in trouble with the law.

The center was announced Wednesday by the Community Foundation in Jacksonville, though the financial details will not be released until later.

It will, however, be the biggest single grant ever given by the foundation, said its president, Nina Waters. The largest previous grant is $1,025,000.

Lawanda Ravoira, a longtime advocate for at-risk girls, will head the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. She said girls often are ill-served by the juvenile justice system, though progress has been made in recent years.

“Girls come in, they’re generally low-risk, but with extensive needs because of their past histories of trauma and abuse and violence,” said Ravoira, who will testify at a Senate briefing on the issue in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23. “People are really struggling with what to do with girls who are entering the criminal justice system.”

Weaver said she was honored to have her name associated with the new center, saying she wants to see a “level playing field” for girls and young women.

“It’s just appalling to me, the stories I’ve heard in terms of the young girls put in detention, and I just want to be part of changing that,” Weavers said.

Ravoira has resigned, effective in December, from her position as Jacksonville-based director of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency’s Center for Girls & Young Women. Her staff of seven full-time and two part-time workers will make the move to the new group with her, she said.

Research shows that up to 90 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced physical or sexual abuse, Ravoira said.

Nearly half of the 600,000 girls arrested in the U.S. each year get in trouble for non-violent offenses such running away using drugs or alcohol, which are often connected to that abuse, she said.

Ravoira called that an all-too common story for troubled girls, including one she met recently on a nationwide tour. That girl was abused by her mother’s boyfriends, then ran away, got arrested and violated probation as her troubles at home continued.

“No one addressed the sexual abuse that was happening to her; no one addressed her trauma and victimization,” she said. “They focus on the behavior, trying to control the behavior, but not trying to address what really paved her pathway into this system.”

Nearly 670 girls in Florida are locked up every day, Ravoira said. The lot in life of troubled girls often is made worse after entering the legal system, which Ravoira calls “ a system that was never designed to meet those very specific needs of girls and young women.”

She pointed to strip searches, the use of isolation rooms, physical restraints and the effects of incarceration, either in jails or residential facilities far from home.

Progress has been made in Florida: In 2004 the Legislature passed a bill, written by Ravoira, requiring “gender-specific” treatment of girls.

Ravoira said the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center will concentrate its work on Northeast Florida. The idea is to involve both the juvenile justice system and those who work with troubled girls, coming up with solutions at the local level.

Then the ideas can go national.

“Our work will focus on our community, in really making Duval County and the First Coast a model for this country in how communities should respond to girls who are in and at risk of entering the juvenile justice system,” Ravoira said.

matt.soergel@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4082

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