Making Space for Girls Vera’s Effort to End Girls’ Incarceration

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Associated Press
The majority of girls who enter the juvenile justice system are like Gynnya, detained for low-level offenses that pose no risk to public safety.

Like so many girls held in juvenile detention centers, Gynnya was struggling with challenges at home and lived in a foster care group home. She was held in custody because she allegedly hit her mother while she was home on a visit from foster care, not because she posed a risk to public safety. The decision to place Gynnya in custody in the first place was a failure to attend appropriately to the ways that girls struggle with trauma and family violence and, instead, to punish her by putting her in an unsafe environment.

The Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Youth Justice takes an approach to juvenile justice reform that holds race and gender at the center of efforts to keep youth out of the justice system—boys, girls, LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth, all kids. Despite the field’s success in cutting the number of youth in custody in half over the last 15 years, the majority of girls who enter the juvenile justice system are still like Gynnya, detained for low-level offenses that pose no risk to public safety. Although these are the very types of offenses targeted by reform efforts, the benefits of reform haven’t always trickled down to girls.

Vera’s work to End Girls’ Incarceration seeks to realize justice for kids who have been systematically left behind in a field that for so long has focused almost exclusively on the incarceration of boys. It is long past time to make space for girls’ voices and stories—in conversations, in data analysis, in reform strategies. It is long past time to stop locking girls up in facilities that do more harm than good in addressing misbehavior and, instead, to make space for girls’ healing and growth. It’s long past time to make space for girls in our mission to promote equity for all kids.