Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children



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While research shows girls are no more violent than in previous years, 1 the proportion of girls in the justice system increased from 11 percent nationally in 1980, to 18 percent in 2000, and to 30 percent by 2004. 2 As overall juvenile arrests rates decreased during the last two decades, girls continue to account for nearly 30 percent of juvenile arrests in the United States. In New York State, where the age of criminal responsibility is 16 years, juvenile arrests for youth under the age of 16 years between 2004 and 2015, presented similar patterns with substantial decreases in arrest rates for boys and girls while the proportion of arrests for girls remained relatively stable, currently at 26 percent.

The emerging focus on girls in the justice system coincides with an increasing understanding of child development and the effects of trauma that are interconnected with justice system involvement and related to immediate and future well-being. Further, research has demonstrated   disparities within the justice system – including by race, ethnicity, sex and gender. Different patterns emerge for girls and boys as to how they enter and progress through the justice system – patterns that reflect their personal experiences, their responses to those experiences, and how the justice system responds to those behaviors. 3 These patterns also reflect racial, ethnic and gender biases. Typically, and disproportionately, girls in the juvenile justice system are non-violent, low-risk and high-need. 4

To date, the Commission has initiated two efforts to raise awareness of and address the needs of girls involved in the justice system or at risk of involvement in the system.

• To kick-off the Girls’ Justice efforts in New York, the Commission – in partnership with the New York University Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools (NYU) and the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) – convened the Girls’ Justice: A Conference for Child Welfare, School and Justice Practitioners on July 20, 2016, at the NYU Metro Center.

• Also in 2016, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention released a Request for Proposals aiming to Reduce the Reliance on Confinement and Improve Community Based Responses for Girls At Risk of Entering the Juvenile Justice System. The New York State Unified Court System (UCS) submitted and was awarded a grant for the New York State Girls’ Justice Initiative (GJI) – a collaboration led by UCS and implemented by the Commission in partnership with NYU and DCJS to address the documented criminalization of girls’ behaviors, including those related to status offenses and technical violations of probation that too often reflect trauma-induced responses, and the need to implement gender-specific, trauma-informed policies and programs for girls at-risk or involved with the juvenile justice system.

“Social Justice for Our Youth” Session Recording (Video)
In February 2021, the PJCJC, in partnership with the New York Youth Justice Institute, hosted “Social Justice for Our Youth” with Dr. Monique Morris. This event centered on how overcriminalization and school pushout has impacted Black girls within the United States. Dr. Morris is an award-winning author and social justice scholar, the executive producer and co-writer of the critically acclaimed documentary “PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” and the leader of the philanthropic organization Grantmakers for Girls of Color. Dr. Morris was also the Keynote Speaker for the 2016 Girls’ Justice Conference.

The presentation centered on school pushout, which is the practice of pushing young students out of educational environments through harsh disciplinary measures such as suspensions, expulsions, and even arrests. Nationwide instances of disproportionate disciplinary response against Black girls have been identified by Dr. Morris, who noted that “[w]e are hearing of cases around the country that include seven-year-old girls being arrested for having tantrums in their classroom.” Dr. Morris has indicated that part of the problem of overcriminalization of Black girls is the socialized tendency to perceive young Black girls as having an adult mindset and motivations at a younger age than their peers, a process known as adultification.

Monique Morris Visual Notes

Structural issues were also identified by Dr. Morris, who, in reference to the lack of youth development training in officers stationed in schools, emphasized "We ask too much of law enforcement in our schools, and they are not equipped to respond to the needs of our girls of color." On school reforms, Dr. Morris noted that "[w]hile an increasing number of schools are developing alternative practices from exclusionary discipline…we know that racial disparities persist for those who remain along the pathways to confinement." She emphasized that in order to address the overcriminalization crisis, it is necessary to consider how social conditioning informs our understanding of who must bear risk and who must be protected.

In terms of moving forward, Dr. Morris advocated for a paradigm shift within schools. Instead of the standard disciplinarian mindset, which has produced racial inequity and disparity, she advocated for perceiving misbehavior as an opportunity for growth. "Every time a student gets in trouble, it should not be an opportunity to get rid of another one. It should be an opportunity to bring them into a tapestry of healing.“


1 Zahn, Margaret A., Stephanie R. Hawkins, Janet Chiancone and Ariel Whitworth. 2008. The Girls Study Group—Charting the Way to Delinquency Prevention for Girls. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

2 OJJDP. 2010. Girls Delinquency. U.S. Department of Justice.; OJJDP. 2010. Causes and Correlates of Girls’ Delinquency. U.S. Department of Justice.

3 Sherman, Francine T. and Annie Balck, 2015. Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls. The National Crittenton Foundation.; OJJDP. 2016. Policy Guidance: Girls and the Juvenile Justice System.

4 Watson, Liz and Peter Edelman. 2012. Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States. Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

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