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Spotlight: 6% of the Population, but 40% of the Transfers to Adult Court: The Reality for Black Girls in Iowa’s Juvenile and Adult Justice Systems

Posted in 2017, Research & Policy Thursday, 25 May 2017

By Jeree Thomas, Policy Director

In 2014, Black girls made up approximately 6% of the female youth in Iowa ages 10 to 17; however, they made up 27% of the female juvenile complaints, 41% of the petitions filed on girls in juvenile court, and about 40% of the girls waived to adult court.   This data is given greater context in the Iowa Girls Justice Initiative  final report which builds on a 2016 data report.  Here are just a few of the difficult statistics that highlight the racially disparate and disproportionate reality for Black girls in Iowa’s juvenile and adult justice systems.

  • Among the top five charges for girls from 2010 to 2014, the most significant increase in the percentage of charges was trespass charges against Black girls. There was a 109% increase from 2010 to 2014.  The closest most significant increase was possession of a controlled substance for White girls, which increased 37% over five years. 
  • Detention holds increased 78% for Black girls from 2010 to 2014.  
  • From 2011 to 2015, the proportion of girls waived into the adult system increased from 16% to 24%.  This was the highest increase of any major decision point
  • While waiver to adult court of White girls decreased by 37% from 2010 to 2014.  Waiver of Black girls to adult court increased by 23% from 2010 to 2014.

The trends in Iowa reflect the concerns highlighted in the 2016 Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections (NIC) report, No Place for Youth: Girls in the Adult Justice System.  In No Place for Youth, the authors poured through scholarship on girls in the juvenile and adult justice systems.  They noted that girls in the system are more likely to have experienced physical and sexual trauma, they are more likely to be LBQ or gender nonconforming, and are more likely to be a low risk to reoffend, but have a high need for services.

It is critical that the Iowa Girls Initiative take action to resolve the root causes of disproportionality and racial disparities in their system.  It is important that system stakeholders from judges to juvenile probation officers are well-trained, culturally-competent, and aware of alternatives to pushing girls of color deeper into the justice system.  They should utilize the expertise and online resources of groups like Rights for Girls and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy to not only address the needs of girls broadly, but the needs of Black girls specifically to reduce disproportionality and racial disparities in their system. 

To learn more about Iowa’s system and the ongoing effort to address the needs of girls there, please visit the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ page on Females and Juvenile Justice.