Black Women And Girls In the Criminal Justice System

Prisons are no place for youth and are especially harmful to Black girls. The vast majority of girls who remain in emotional distress or who suffer from mental health conditions are there as a result of experiences of violence and trauma and the failure of less secure placements to adequately address their needs. Many youth prisons are modeled after adult facilities with a focus on a punishment that is fundamentally incompatible with healthy adolescent development. From shackles to the use of solitary confinement, the use of chemical agents, and the lack of family engagement, youth prisons endanger young girls and inhibit their development. 

Though making up a smaller population in the youth justice system, Black girls are now making up a larger share of the juvenile justice population at every stage of the process. Data shows us that over the past two decades, girls' share of the juvenile justice system from courts through incarceration saw sizable increases: arrests increased by 45 percent, court caseloads increased by 40 percent, detentions jumped 40 percent, while post-adjudication placement rose by 42 percent. Gender inequities fall heaviest on girls of color and LBQ/GNCT (lesbian, bisexual, questioning / gender-non-conforming, transgender) youth. Black girls are three-and-a-half times more likely than white girls to be incarcerated. Sadly, girls in the juvenile justice system are nearly twice as likely as boys to report having experienced five or more forms of abuse and trauma. More than half of youth incarcerated for running away are girls. Overall, one-third of incarcerated girls are held for status offenses (like truancy, curfew violations, or running away) or for violating the terms of their probation.

To eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline for Black girls, we must stop over-policing in schools, decriminalize forms of survival, practice restorative justice, and ensure there is a continuum of care by passing The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act. We must also provide funding for restorative justice approaches in schools and eliminate the use of detention, suspension, and expulsion by passing the Ending PUSHOUT Act of 2021. Funding must be provided for anti-racist and gender-affirming programming in schools that center on love and care for Black girls. 

We reduce the harm of contact with the juvenile justice system by prioritizing closing youth prisons. The act of incarceration is simply an illegitimate approach to ensuring youth and young adults are able to reach their fullest potential. 

 Congresswoman Watson Coleman introduced the CROWN Act to address the over-discipline of Black girls in schools. The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on a person's hair texture or hairstyle if that style or texture is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. Specifically, the bill prohibits this type of discrimination against those participating in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations, and employment.

The caucus co-chairs have also co-sponsored a resolution acknowledging the hardships of Black women are often equal to those experienced by Black men yet received less attention and justice and calling on any legislation passed in the House of Representatives to remedy racial inequities on the United States, especially those present in the criminal justice system, must include reforms to address concerns for Black women. 

We must continue to incentivize and fund investments in community-based alternatives, education, and work training programs that could help Black girls and their communities thrive.