Why Center Girls?

Photo by Richard Ross

Girls, especially girls of color, are a growing proportion of youth involved in the juvenile-justice system.

Girls are disproportionately arrested, formally processed, detained, and incarcerated for offenses that pose little or no threat to public safety. In fact, girls often enter the juvenile justice system for behavior that results from trauma that they have experienced. For girls with histories of abuse entering on low-risk charges, juvenile-justice involvement is likely to exacerbate the harm they have experienced.

Girls’ pathway into the juvenile justice system often originates with surviving abuse, especially sexual violence. Incarcerated girls exhibit disproportionate rates of mental health disorders and higher rates of trauma: according to the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement, 42% of girls in custody reported past physical abuse, 44% reported past suicide attempts, and 35% reported past sexual abuse.

Girls are disproportionately detained and committed on charges of status offenses or technical violations, which rarely pose threats to public safety. In 2015, 37% of detained girls were held on these charges, compared to 24% of boys, and they represented the most serious charges for 35% of adjudicated and committed girls, compared with 19% of boys. Girls and young women accounted for 55% of all runaway cases in 2014, and more than 40% of all truancy cases.

Girls of color and lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. In 2015, girls of color represented 65% of all detained girls and 61% of all committed girls. Recent studies have found that 39 to 50 percent of incarcerated girls identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

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