Race and Gender

In 2015, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention released national policy guidance on girls for the first time through the National Girls Initiative, which focuses on catalyzing change for girls in, and at risk of entering, the juvenile justice system.Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), “Girls and the Juvenile Justice System,” https://www.ojjdp.gov/policyguidance/girls-juvenile-justice-system/; and OJJDP, “OJJDP Releases Policy Guidance on Girls and the Juvenile Justice System at White House Convening,” press release (Washington, DC: OJJDP, October 28, 2015), https://perma.cc/U3E9-XHXR.  Citing evidence of deep disparities for both girls of color and LGB/TGNC girls in juvenile justice systems throughout the country, the guidance explicitly named “intersectional disparities” as an area of focus for gender-responsive reform.OJJDP, “Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.”       

The concept of intersectionality maintains that when people experience discrimination and adversity based on two or more aspects of their identity (such as being black and a girl), the detrimental effects are multiplied. For example, when the African American Policy Forum analyzed school discipline disparities for girls in New York City and Boston using data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, it found that although boys constituted the majority of children who were formally disciplined, the disparity between black girls and white girls was significantly greater than between black boys and white boys. In New York and Boston, respectively, formal discipline disparities were 10 and 11 times higher for black girls than for white girls; while the rate for black boys was six and eight times higher than that of white boys.Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Priscilla Ocen, and Jyoti Nanda, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected (New York: African American Policy Forum and Columbia University Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, 2015), 19-20, https://perma.cc/MEG4-F4PF.  In addition, analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health showed that lesbian and bisexual girls are between 1.25 and three times as likely as their heterosexual peers to experience school expulsion, juvenile arrest, and conviction.Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein and Hannah Brückner, “Criminal-Justice and School Sanctions Against Nonheterosexual Youth: A National Longitudinal Study,” Pediatrics 127, no. 1 (2011), 48-56, 54, https://perma.cc/NAE2-38B6.  Without an intersectional approach, these disparities would be overlooked.

Acknowledging and affirming girls’ multiple identities can be a starting point to help them build strength and resiliency through approaches that foster positive identification individually and with their communities. However, the development of programmatic and systems strategies that respond to specific groups of girls of color—including black, Latina, Native American, and Asian girls—lag behind the growing awareness that they are needed, although promising programs and practices are highlighted in this guide.