The vast majority of girls in the juvenile justice system are arrested for nonviolent offenses such as truancy, running away, and alcohol and substance use—all behaviors that are strongly correlated with suffering and coping with trauma.
We know that when girls with economic or family stability are hurt by sexual violence, the protective layers of functional schools, safe neighborhoods, and access to mental health services tend to buffer them from further victimization. But for marginalized girls and young women, the experience of sexual abuse too often lands them behind bars. In fact, sexual abuse is a primary predictor for justice involvement in girls. The connection between sexual violence in girls and their ultimate incarceration is not coincidental—sexual abuse is a direct, contributing cause of girls’ involvement in the justice system.
“Young girls need not go to prison but there can be better ways to punish them for their crimes”.Alfred Yambo
We have named this troubling trajectory for girls–and particularly girls of color: The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline. We work to disrupt this harmful and unjust pathway to prison for girls by training judges and policymakers on the Abuse to Prison Pipeline, advocating for alternatives to detention for girls and young women, and promoting criminal and juvenile justice reform efforts that expressly contemplate girls and young women of color, especially those who have experienced violence or exploitation.
Once girls become involved in the juvenile justice system, they must navigate a punitive system that is ill-equipped to address their needs. Once incarcerated, girls are subject to harmful and degrading conditions of confinement that often exacerbate their existing trauma. The traditional methods of asserting authority and order, isolation approaches, and severe discipline characterizing juvenile detention are inappropriate for girls given their abuse histories. Often, girls are subject to solitary confinement and restraints– practices that are especially injurious to victims of sexual and physical violence. Girls are strip searched throughout the duration of their confinement, including when returning from family visitation, after a medical visit, or at the completion of a work shift. Moreover, detention is not safe for girls. Girls consistently report being physically and sexually assaulted by staff and other youth while behind bars.