If we’re serious about reaching new standards of racial equity, we need to recognize the pervasive patterns and practices that harm Black girls and other girls of color. Incarcerating and criminalizing Black girls in the U.S. is both harmful to them and costly to our country. The following policy recommendations will help the collective well-being of all youth no matter their identity or their zip code. By addressing the needs of Black girls, ensuring their safety, and investing in their futures, Congress can usher in transformative change that will benefit the entire country. 

Congresswoman Robin Kelly, along with Caucus Co-Chairs Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Yvette D. Clarke, introduced the Protect Black Women and Girls Act to improve the overall well-being of Black women and girls. Specifically, this legislation establishes an Interagency Task Force to examine the conditions and experiences of Black women and girls to identify and assess the efficacy of policies and programs of federal, state, and local governments designed to improve outcomes for such individuals and to make recommendations to improve such policies and programs.

Historically, Black girls have been cast outside the protection of childhood and presumptions of innocence granted to white girls. As enslaved children, Black girls were forced to perform labor that was central to the functioning of the plantation economy. Like enslaved Black women, Black girls were considered property, facing violent mistreatment and subjugation. This legacy continues to shape Black girls’ marginalization today. 

In the late 20th century, Black girls’ involvement in the juvenile justice system increased dramatically. The shift to zero-tolerance, tough-on-crime approaches, namely more punitive sentencing, had a net-widening effect, and more Black youth, including Black girls, were drawn into the system. Although the first decade of the 21st century saw dramatic decreases in the rate of youth confinement, Black youth were still more likely to be committed to secure facilities and other out-of-home placements when compared with white youth.

The Interagency Task Force will cover issues involving Black women and girls in education, economic development, health care, justice and civil rights, and housing; and submit recommendations at specified intervals to Congress, the President, and each state or local government on policies, practices, programs, and incentives that may be adopted to improve outcomes.