By Mackenzie Tudor
On May 17th, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and The National Crittenton Foundation participated in a workshop entitled, “What Can Be Done For Girls in the Juvenile Justice System?” at the Association for Junior Leagues International Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., where they discussed system-involved girls and girls at risk of becoming involved in the justice system and what can be done to help. The Junior League has a rich history in juvenile justice advocacy and was actively involved in the 1970s and 80s in the development and subsequent reauthorizations of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
Moderated by Jill Ward, panelists CFYJ CEO Liz Ryan, Crittenton Foundation President Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, and Just Kids Partnership Advocate Jabreria Handy, spoke about the issues surrounding the rise in the number of girls in the juvenile justice system and the ways that Junior League Members could get involved.
The highlight of the event was Jabreria Handy. At the age of 16, Jabreria was charged as an adult in the criminal justice system for a crime that she did not commit. She spent 11 months in the Baltimore City Detention Center before her case was sent back to the juvenile justice system. She now shares her story to help ensure that no youth will ever have to go through what she experienced. Jabreria’s account of her experience as a youth in the adult criminal system had a powerful impact on the workshop attendees. Jabreria emphasized that programming both in and out of the juvenile justice system is crucial and, unfortunately, is not as available to youth incriminated in the adult system. Providing support to these girls is critical to helping them transition back into the community.
Jabreria’s perspective on what girls need was echoed by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa. The National Crittenton Foundation has conducted research on Adverse Childhood Experiences that included girls in the juvenile justice system. Girls in the juvenile justice system are often victims of abuse, neglect, household dysfunction or substance abuse in the home. As a result, these girls are more likely to be incarcerated for status offenses, offenses that would not be illegal if the individual was an adult, such as running away from home. Once in the system, girls often fail to receive the services they need, and instead are re-traumatized and derailed from educational achievement.
This discussion clearly resonated with many of the women in attendance. Sparked by Jabreria’s story, there was a clear desire from those in attendance to learn more about how they could help the at-risk girls both in and out of the juvenile justice system.
Liz Ryan identified the following key steps to take to start advocating for girls in your communities:
1. Urge your Governor to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to ensure that girls are not placed in adult jails and prisons.
2. Contact your Representative and Senators and urge them to provide more federal resources to address the needs of girls in the justice system.
3. Reach out to the Juvenile Justice Specialist in your state to get information on how your state is addressing gender-specific programming in its JJDPA state plan. http://www.ojjdp.gov/statecontacts/ResourceList.asp
5. Contact the National Girls institute and request technical assistance to create programming in your community. http://www.nationalgirlsinstitute.org
For more take action steps go here.
Want to learn more about girls in the juvenile justice system? Take a look at CFYJ’s resource list here.