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Purpose. This study is an examination of a sample of 114 female juveniles charged with arson in a large juvenile justice system. The purpose of this study is to contribute to the limited descriptive literature about female juvenile arsonists.

Methods. Female juvenile arsonists who had been charged with an arson were explored regarding their experiences of family disorganization, abuse and neglect, school issues, substance abuse, mental health, and crime characteristics. Group and solo arson offending was explored in depth. Subjects were from a large US southern state and included all the girls charged with arson over a 5-year period from 2001 to 2005.

Results. The female juvenile arsonists were often from profoundly unstable homes, experienced difficulty with school attendance and behaviour, had little or no contact with at least one parent, and were in a crisis at the time of the arson offence. Arson crimes committed by juvenile female offenders were most often at school and were a result of an accidental or impulsive act. Solo female juvenile arsonists had more instability in their homes, poorer school enrollment, increased experiences of limited contact with a parent, often felt upset, angry, and expressed suicidal thoughts when compared to group female juvenile arson offenders.

Conclusions. Female juveniles who commit arson alone present very different risk factors and immediate problems than those who commit arson in a group; they likely need very different treatment. Juvenile arson crimes should be seen as warning signal given out by youth in distress.