Debates about the crisis in the American criminal-justice system—the over-incarceration, the "warehousing" of the mentally ill, the harsh juvenile sentencing—tend to leave out perhaps the most vulnerable group within its confines: girls, and particularly girls of color.
The proportion of girls incarcerated within the juvenile justice system is increasing, but it's not necessarily because girls are becoming more violent. According to a new report from the Human Rights Project for Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation for Women, growing numbers of girls are arrested for minor offenses. And these transgressions, such as substance abuse, truancy, and running away (60 percent of all runaway cases in over the past 20 years were girls), "are also the most common symptoms of abuse," the report notes.
One figure from the Department of Justice suggests that nearly one-third of the girls in the juvenile justice system had been sexually abused. Several local surveys show that the problem may be much worse. The statistics suggest that the so-called "school-to-prison pipeline" for boys has a disturbing parallel for girls, whose pipeline to prison frequently leads from sexual abuse.