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“Black womanhood in the United States is framed by the politics of protection—not simply with respect to the legal system, but because of it.” (Kali Nicole Gross)

In her 2015 article in the Journal of American History, Kali Nicole Gross links the increasing share of black women and girls involved in the criminal justice system with slavery: “…in 1619, the colonies began to sanction and codify slavery; included among the statutes were laws directly responsible for the denigration of black womanhood.” Legal scholar Patricia Williams also sites the U.S. history of racism, slavery, and colonialism as “intimately tied” to the silencing and objectification of black women and girls: “Among the voices most insistently suppressed, written off, and written out are those of black women and girls.”

“By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying to understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can prepare ourselves for a more just future” (Jake Silverstein, The 1619 Project)

A new initiative from the New York Times, The 1619 Project, seeks to reframe American history by “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” This collection of essays and literature highlights slavery as a root cause of our present day systems of mass incarceration, education and healthcare, and the need to acknowledge this history in efforts toward a “more just future”.

“I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation.” (Cyntoia Brown)

31-year-old Cyntoia Brown was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women this month after serving 15 years of a life sentence that was commuted in January. She will be under parole supervision for the next ten years. Despite being 16-years-old at the time of her conviction, Cyntoia was charged as an adult—something that happens to approximately 76,000 kids each year. While many states have implemented Raise the Age legislation and the Supreme Court ruled that life without parole sentences for minors are cruel and unusual punishment, many children, like Cyntoia was at the time, “continue to be subject to lengthy mandatory minimum sentences when they are tried as adults.”

In a piece for Mother Jones, Olivia Exstrum highlights Judge Catherine Pratt’s Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience (STAR) Court—a specialized court for victims of sex trafficking: “what if courts treated young sex trafficking victims like Cyntoia Brown, as people not perpetrators?” The first “gender-and-trauma-responsive court continuum” in Westchester County, New York—Gender Responsive Initiatives and Partnerships Court (GRIP)—aims to improve outcomes for girls who are involved, or at risk of becoming involved, with the juvenile justice system. “Girls constitute the largest growing segment of the juvenile justice system and now account for nearly one-third of all juvenile arrests in the United States,” write Kathie E. Davidson and Karen K. Peters.

Melba V. Pearson asks “what is being done to assure a successful transition for [Cyntoia Brown] to live in the community” now that she’s been released, in a piece for The Root. In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a statement saying that, “the data show that involvement with the criminal justice system — even brief contact with the police or indirect exposure — is associated with lasting harm to people’s physical and mental health.” The department created a Criminal Justice Action Kit for health care providers in the city.

“We need a new vision for youth justice, one with love as its organizing principle that defines healing, restoration and renewal as its core objectives.” (Clinton Lacey)

In Nebraska: the Geneva Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, the state’s only juvenile justice facility for girls, is now shuttered due to dangerous and unlivable conditions reported by the state inspector general.

In Kentucky: a statewide juvenile justice overhaul is intended to “get to the underlying issues that cause kids to engage in status offenses,” and divert youth away from the system. While the number of youth detained for status offenses has dropped, about half of those detained are girls, and those “most often detained in the state now are runaways.” Nationally, girls make up 27% of the juvenile justice population, but they constitute 43% of youth taken to court for status offensesGirls also make up 55% of youth taken to court for running away, which is a behavior often linked to abusive and dysfunctional home environments.

In California: the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is considering moving the oversight of youth in the juvenile justice system from the probation departmentinto the Department of Health and Human Services, in an effort to create a “rehabilitative, health-focused and care-first system.” Despite evidence that youth are better served closer to home, California counties are financially incentivized to send youth to state facilities rather than local ones due to costs. Senate bill 284 would reverse this incentive by increasing the cost counties pay for sending youth to state facilities.

In New Jersey: a new report from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice suggests that deeper investment and strengthening of the state’s Youth Services Commissions would divert young people away from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

The National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) sent a letter to presidential candidates outlining “The Future for Youth Justice 2020: A Policy Platform for the 2020 Election.” The platform includes policies and laws aimed at: reducing youth incarceration, removing youth from adult facilities, investing in youth community supports, and more.

“Our challenge is not to mediate student misbehavior, but rather to better understand that this misbehavior…is almost always associated with a students’ perception of, and reaction to, harm.” (Monique W. Morris.)

In Georgia, a Newton High School resource officer is under investigation in response to a video where he’s shown physically assaulting 15-year-old Mikka Grandy while breaking up a fight. In Fayette County, the National Women’s Law Center is filing a lawsuit on behalf of a teenager who was expelled after reporting that she was sexually assaulted on school grounds.

In her newest book, “Sing a Rhythm, Dance A Blues” Monique W. Morris explores the ways in which schools and communities are addressing the pushout and criminalization of black girls in schools. At a public middle school in Ohio, that’s meant reducing reliance on exclusionary discipline in favor of a “school discipline continuum” that includes mentoring, advisory programs, and positive behavioral interventions and supports.

new report from Alliance for Girls uses a Youth Participatory Action Research model to highlight the lived experiences of girls of color in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose. Findings feature the aspirations of those interviewed, their experiences at home, in school, online, in the community, and more, including recommendations for improvement.

“They’re going to define if you stay or go home, and you could die at home. Imagine if you don’t have help.” (Nolberto)

People awaiting trial in immigration court have no right to a lawyer—not even children. While organizations like the Safe Passage Project work pro bono to represent many children in immigraiton court, only 40% of unaccompanied minors have legal counsel nationally. Lack of legal representation highly increases a child’s odds of deportation: “since 2005 in New York, 87 percent of unaccompanied children without a lawyer were deported,” compared to 24% of children with a lawyer. A new report from Ceres Policy Research analyzes “operation streamline courts” in California and Arizona, finding that these expedited court proceedings “fail to provide due process protections for immigrant defendants.”

The Trump administration’s finalized public charge rule will go into effect on October 15th, aggressively limiting legal immigrants’ ability to successfully apply for green cards and visas and targeting those with low incomes. You can learn more about the public charge rule and the administration’s changes here.

“When we’re talking about abortion bans, especially in the south, it’s important to remember the history of how America was founded.” (Cherisse Scott)

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is withdrawing all of its clinics from Title X, losing $60 million a year in funding, in response to the Trump administration’s “domestic gag rule” that restricts federal family planning program dollars from funding healthcare clinics that refer patients to abortion services. Illinois, Maryland, Washington, and Vermont are all rejecting Title X funds and using state money to ensure clinics are able to continue providing abortion services.

Anti-choice lawmakers in Tennessee are calling for legislation that would make all abortions illegal in Tennessee—”establishing conception as the point when a fetus becomes viable.” An eight-week abortion ban in Missouri was blocked by Federal District Judge Howard F. Sachs.


  • Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality’s Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity is hiring a part-time Communications Associate
  • The Black Swan Academy and Rights4Girls are seeking a part-time DC Girls Coalition Coordinator
  • The Campaign for Youth Justice has an event sign-up form available for anyone interested in developing action-oriented events in their communities for Youth Justice Action Month in October





“Our struggle brings us together as a community, and reassures us that we are valued and we are important. You could tell a lot of stories about being a girl of color in America.”

Source: Together We Rise report, Alliance for Girls

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