Ending Girls’ Incarceration Initiative

Brooke Anderson for the Young Women's Freedom Center
Getting to zero girls incarcerated by 2030

Vera’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration (EGI) aims to zero out the incarceration of girls and gender-expansive youth in the country’s juvenile legal system by 2030. Getting to zero is ambitious but achievable. On a given day, most states have fewer than 150 young people in girls’ long-term placement facilities—many have fewer than 50. Meanwhile, the eight states that lock up the most girls account for more than 50 percent of girls' incarceration nationally. EGI targets states with the highest and the lowest levels of incarceration of girls.

To get to zero girls incarcerated, we partner with government and community leaders to develop solutions based on community needs while advocating for broader policy changes at the state and local levels that advance the freedom and well-being of girls and gender-expansive youth. As we boost local prevention and diversion services, we’re also working to decriminalize status offenses (like running away) and explicitly prohibit incarceration for misdemeanors and technical violations of probation, to protect a young person’s safety or address their needs, and when there is no threat to public safety.

With our help, jurisdictions are already closing in on zero and paving the way for government leaders across the country to join the movement.

  • New York City achieved a 90% drop in annual girls’ long-term placement admissions and a 70% drop in annual girls’ detention admissions between 2016 and 2020—with as many as 18 days of zero youth in girls’ detention facilities within a single month in 2021.

42,000 girls’ incarcerations each year—largely for low-level offenses

Most girls and gender expansive youth in the juvenile legal system are incarcerated for low-level offenses that pose no threat to public safety. Their charges are for conduct rooted in experiences of violence, trauma, and discrimination that have gone overlooked by the systems and communities that should protect and support them.

of girls’ incarcerations in the United States are for misdemeanor or noncriminal violations
drop in annual girls’ long-term placement admissions in New York City from 2016 to 2020
of young people in girls' facilities have survived sexual violence

Rather than responding with the understanding and support that’s needed, systems wrongfully incarcerate them for reasons that directly contradict best practice: to discipline noncriminal violations (like running away), protect the young person’s own safety, or provide access to services and basic needs that should be available to all children in the community. Locking up young people for these reasons is harmful, counterproductive (actually increasing their risk of future legal system involvement), and the driving force of girls’ incarceration: if every state in the country banned youth incarceration for misdemeanor or lower-level charges, girls’ incarceration would come to a permanent end in most communities.

There are around 42,000 girls’ detentions and thousands more in long-term placements each year—typically in correctional facilities that mirror adult jails and prisons, buildings designed for punishment and isolation. The girls and gender expansive youth held there are disproportionately poor, LGBTQ, and youth of color—primarily Black, Native American, and Latina.

Vera is designing solutions to advance freedom

But we must move beyond emptying and closing the door to facilities. We need solutions that provide young people with safety, healing, and opportunity in their communities and address how race and gender discrimination lead to arrest and legal contact in the first place. EGI partners with government to find policy and practice solutions that shrink legal systems without pushing young people into other institutional settings, requiring ankle monitors, or moving young people to adult court. We also partner with young people, advocates, and service providers to build services that meet young people’s needs in their communities—from housing to conflict-intervention resources to diversion programs.

EGI’s solutions are rooted in best practice, lived experience, and on-the-ground expertise, and we share data, tools, and new ideas with the field—putting the power of evidence in the hands of communities across the country so they can also push for and sustain an end to girls’ incarceration.

Freedom and Justice

Ending the Incarceration of Girls and Gender-Expansive Youth in California

Read the report
Contact us
Lindsay Rosenthal Initiative Director, Ending Girls' Incarceration lrosenthal@vera.org (212) 334-1300

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