The majority of girls who enter the juvenile justice system are still detained for low-level offenses that pose no risk to public safety; for technical violations; and for status offenses (non-criminal behaviors like truancy and running away). These are the very types of offenses targeted by the reforms of the past decade that successfully cut the number of young people in juvenile custody nationally to half the size it was at its peak in the early 2000s. However, girls have not benefitted from these reforms to the extent that they should: though the number of girls in custody has fallen, it has fallen at a slower rate than that of boys. 

Upon arrest, girls are confronted by a system designed to address the causes and contexts of boys’ delinquency—a system unequipped to meet girls’ needs. National data shows that girls receive harsher punishment than boys for less serious offenses and are often detained to protect their safety rather than to protect the public. Persistent racial disparities, as well as the stark overrepresentation of LBGT and GNC youth, amplify the urgent need for reform.

Across the country, momentum is building to break the cycle of arresting, detaining, and placing girls in juvenile justice facilities for low-level offenses and to secure equal justice for girls—especially girls of color and LGBT/GNC youth. Vera is partnering with New York City to convene a multi-agency task force to examine the unique pathways that lead girls and trans/GNC youth into the juvenile justice system and to design policies and practices to interrupt those pathways. This initiative will draw on the expertise of New York City agency leadership, community advocates, national experts, and academic scholars, and will center on the voices of girls/young women and their families. The result will be a comprehensive plan aimed at ending girls’ incarceration in New York City, which can serve as a model to end girls’ incarceration nationally.